It could take months for all pain and discomfort to disappear following your knee replacement operation. Jon Smith wants to have an honest conversation about expectations…
There is a perception amongst many patients that, following a knee replacement, they’ll be back to normal within a few weeks. Look at the stories of patients who had knee replacements with us and they’ll all talk about initial discomfort followed by knees that feel as good as new.
But it’s important to understand a few things about the healing process:
1. It depends on the knee replacement
A total knee replacement patient is typically looking at a one year recovery period for things to fully settle down. I should stress that doesn’t mean you’ll be living with constant pain for a year. But the occasional twinge or moment of discomfort could well last 12 months. Occasionally it could be two years.
For partial knee replacements – a much less invasive process – you can typically halve that.
2. The total knee replacement smile
After a total knee replacement, I’ll see my patients again in 6-8 weeks. Often, they won’t be full of the joys of spring at this point. The knee will often still be sore, and we’ll be managing this with physio once or twice a week, ice packs and over the counter painkillers.
The follow up session will be at six months. At that point, virtually every total knee replacement patient has a smile on their face.
3. The infection that isn’t an infection
Total knee replacement patients will often complain of a ‘toothache of the knee’ for the first three months, a nagging pain that’s worse at night.
At least in part, this is an effect of having a foreign body in your system – the body’s immune response is to fight the metal and plastic of an implant. The result is heat, swelling, redness and pain that GPs might often misdiagnose as an infection when in reality it is simply the body defending itself, just as it would if you had a splinter in your thumb.
4. The phases of recovery
Think of your recovery in two phases. The initial phase will last 6-8 weeks, and that will be when discomfort is at its worst. After this, there’s a ‘bedding-in period’ of 6-12 months where the body learns to accept the implant. Any pain during this period is typically far less, and far less frequent, but it’s important to know that some discomfort during this period is entirely normal.
Again, you can expect all the above durations to be half as long in the case of a partial knee replacement.
Of course, phrases like ‘pain’ and ‘discomfort’ are all relative, and I’ll often hear patients saying that, whatever the discomfort, it’s nothing compared to the pain they were in before the operation. For a subjective view, I would urge you to take a look at our case studies for real accounts from our patients. We haven’t primed them. We haven’t edited them. And we have encouraged them to be completely honest. You can read them here.
If you would like to explore your knee replacement options, please get in touch.
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