Man Recovering at Home After Knee Operation

How quickly will you recover from a knee replacement? And how painful will that recovery be? Jim Newman sets some expectations…

When I see patients in the clinic, I spend a lot of time setting expectations about post-op pain. I do that because it’s really, really important that people understand what life is going to be like post-knee replacement. In time (and we’ll get to exactly how much time in a moment) your partial knee replacement should leave you almost entirely pain free. Your total knee replacement will leave you largely pain free, and certainly far, far better than the pain you were in before your operation.

But let’s be completely open about this: things can be pretty tough for a while after your operation, so let’s explore the detail of pain during recovery.

> Questions about your knee surgery?
> Discover more about partial or total knee replacements


Will I feel pain during the operation?

No. You’ll be anaesthetised (either using a spinal or general anaesthetic), so you won’t feel any pain during the operation itself.


Does anaesthetic prevent pain after the operation?

Not after it wears off, so anaesthetists will find other ways to make the pain more manageable immediately after the operation. They might use nerve blocks or a local anaesthetic around the joint. You may also be prescribed some high dose painkillers which can be effective in helping to dull pain.


Will my knee be painful after knee replacement?

Yes. The first two weeks are the worst, after which time you should start to see an improvement. From that point, things will continue to improve (although you may hit the occasional bump in the road — see below). At six weeks, most people are walking although the knee will still be very swollen and bruised. You might be walking with a bit of a limp. At three months things should have improved significantly. Full recovery from a knee replacement can take three years.


My knee replacement recovery was going well but I feel I’ve had a setback. Is this normal?

Yes. Some days you might push your knee a little too hard and it might swell and feel sore. On the road to recovery you’ll have good days and bad days. Day to day, recovery isn’t a straight line — you’ll probably experience the odd setback — but over the longer term there’s no question that the vast majority of people have a very significant improvement in pain and function.

> Questions about your knee surgery?
> Discover more about partial or total knee replacements


Will my knee replacement be completely pain free?

It might be, especially if it’s a partial knee replacement (see below). More likely is that, even once the new knee is fully settled, you’ll still get little ‘reminders’ that you’ve had an implant fitted. A paracetamol or two is usually all it takes to address this mild pain.

Again, it’s important to compare that with the position pre-op, where you probably tried all sorts of medication and found it had limited and temporary effect, with pain preventing you from walking, driving or sleeping.

Most people find that, even if there’s the occasional twinge, life after a knee replacement is a world away from living with osteoarthritis.


Why do I seem to have more pain with my knee replacement than others have had?

It’s often the case that, when you’re having a knee replacement, others in your family or friendship group will be having them too and it’s inevitable that you’ll compare notes. One of the most common questions I’m asked is ‘how come their recovery seemed to happen quicker/slower than mine?’

The reason is that there are a huge number of variables between your recovery and theirs. There’s the type of knee replacement, the implant, and the surgeon. There’s the state of the knee joint before the operation, your perception of pain relative to someone else and, if you’ve been suffering from arthritis for years, the level to which your muscle power and tone have been affected through not being able to be as active as you would like. Then there’s the effectiveness of your physiotherapy and your ability to rebuild muscle strength. A knee replacement gives you a working joint, but it doesn’t magically give you your muscles back. They need to be rebuilt and rehab can take time.

So while it’s completely natural to compare notes, the reality is you can’t easily compare one knee replacement with another.


Which type of knee replacement is more painful?

A total knee replacement is usually more painful. Partial knee replacements are typically less painful (and with faster recovery) because they are a much smaller procedure, about a third as big an operation as a ‘full knee’.

With a total knee replacement you may be driving at six weeks but with a partial knee replacement that could be reduced to four. For a total knee replacement, you’ll be back at work in around three months. A partial knee replacement could see you halve that depending on your job.

It’s for the above reasons that, if there’s a choice between a full and a partial knee replacement (and although most patients may be suitable for a partial knee, not all will) the partial would always be my recommendation.

To explore options for your knee replacement, please contact us, or phone us on 03453 052 579.

> Find out more about Jim Newman
> Questions about your knee surgery?
> Discover more about partial or total knee replacements

James Newman

James Newman

Private appointments weekly at Spire Methley Park Hospital

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Sera Robertson
Spire Methley Park
01977 664 230

Self Pay: 01977 664 245
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