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Partial Knee Replacement Recovery: What to Expect

If you are considering partial knee replacement, you are certainly wondering how long recovery will take. When can you start walking? Go back to work? Return to exercising? Let’s take a look at the answers to learn what you can expect.

What is Partial Knee Replacement?

First, let’s define a partial knee replacement. The knee has three compartments. One is located at the front of the leg, behind the kneecap. The other two are located on the inner side of the knee and on the outer side. When you hear someone talk about a partial knee replacement, it means that just one of these compartments are repaired. You may also hear this type of surgery called unicompartmental knee arthroplasty. This approach is less invasive, so patients typically experience less blood loss, less pain and a faster recovery than with total knee replacement.

Patients are often surprised that their recovery will begin the day after their surgery, starting with physical therapy. In between your therapy sessions, you can walk with crutches, a walker, or a cane as much as you feel comfortable with, as long as you rest when your body tells you to go easy. If you begin to feel pain, do not push yourself. Stop immediately.

To prepare patients for physical therapy and to ease their discomfort, your doctor will inject the soft tissues around the knee with a series of medications during the surgery. It is extremely helpful with post-operative pain control, but it does begin to wear off one to three days after the surgery. It is expected and normal that you will feel slightly more discomfort or pain, so it is important to keep taking the several oral pain medications that have been prescribed to you and to follow the directions carefully.

After Your Partial Knee Replacement

You will have swelling and bruising after your surgery. Don’t be alarmed as it appears to get worse over the next one to two weeks. This is normal. There are ways of managing and minimizing this. You can ice your knee three to four times a day for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, but don’t let the wound or dressing get wet. Elevating your leg above heart level as you sit or lay down can help to reduce swelling, and this can be done by putting a few pillows under your leg.

Your doctor will send you home from surgery with compression stockings, which should be used at all times, with the exception of during showers, while changing clothes, or to let your skin breathe. Do not remove them for more than a few hours. These stockings are one of the greatest defenses against excessive swelling and should typically be worn for approximately four weeks. They also help to reduce the risk of blood clots.

With partial knee replacement, the incision is small, but you do still need to take special care of it. Unless the dressing is soiled or wet, do not change it until your follow-up appointment, which will be 10 to 14 days after the surgery. If conditions require that it be changed before then, replace the dressing with a fresh 4×4 gauze and secure it with clear Tegaderm bandage tape. At the four week mark, you may begin treating the incision site with Vitamin E lotion or Mederma to improve the appearance of the scar.

Following Up with Your Orthopedic Surgeon

Your doctor will want to see you two weeks after your partial knee replacement and again six weeks after surgery. At that point, you will likely be able to walk without a cane or walker and will be back to daily activities. Depending on how you have been feeling, you may have already been able to return to work if your job is not a physically strenuous one.

Around six to eight weeks after surgery, you will be able to exercise once again, starting slowly of course. You won’t be able to put a hard and repeated impact on your knee (such as jogging or running) but you will be able to swim, golf, play tennis and even go biking. Ask your doctor about other activities you can enjoy.

Your doctor will want to see you about four months after surgery. You may be able to stop physical therapy at that time or will perhaps continue it for another month or two. After that, your doctor will want to see you once a year.

Contact the practice of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Gautum Siram for answers to any of your questions and to learn if you are a good candidate for a partial knee replacement.

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