Knee replacement surgery is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States today, with an estimated 780,000 in 2021. Most patients will enjoy the reduced pain and a more active lifestyle thanks to the procedure. For some, however, their recovery and outcome from a knee replacement is not what they expected. 

The following are five of the most common mistakes we see in patients after knee replacement surgery, in no particular order.

Being sedentary and not following exercise prescription from physical therapist

After a knee replacement, active participation in physical therapy is key. If you do not walk around frequently, change positions, and follow your prescribed exercises, you run the risk of developing joint stiffness.

There are a multitude of other possible complications post-operatively when you remain sedentary. That being said, we do not expect you to run a marathon right after surgery, but consistent mobility and adherence to your exercise prescription is very important.

Going back to work too soon

After a knee replacement, your full-time job is to maximize your recovery. You have one opportunity to succeed. We want you to do it right!

If you have a job that requires you to go back to work right away, consider light duty or modified hours. It is important to put all your effort and focus into ensuring a safe recovery. You must allow your body to heal before jumping back into a strenuous job. And hey, you deserve a break!

Not using available pain management techniques

Pain is expected after knee replacement surgery. At the Total Joint Center, we use a variety of approaches to help you manage your pain, which includes:

  • using ice
  • repositioning
  • elevation
  • integrative/alternative therapies
  • pain medications 

We do not want you to come to your post-op appointment with limited range of motion because you could not work with your physical therapist due to high pain levels. A vicious cycle exists when you do not manage your pain. You experience pain, so you limit your movement.

But when you limit mobility, your joint then becomes stiff and more painful, so you further limit your movement, increasing the pain even more. This can result in a poor outcome. 

We do prescribe pain medications for our patients. We understand that some patients may be concerned about developing an addiction to such medication. The odds of developing an addiction to pain medication is very rare when it is taken as prescribed and supervised by your surgeon. 

Not having a plan in place for after surgery

This is a mistake that is actually made before surgery. It is very important to have a safe plan in place for your post-operative care and recovery, including where you will be discharged to from the hospital, and who will act as your support person. 

There are a variety of options available. Some patients choose to have a family member or friend stay at their house. Some stay at someone else’s house or assign different people for different tasks each day.

Those patients who do not have a safe plan established in advance of surgery may experience more time in the hospital and often have more challenges to overcome in the first days being home. Your support person is needed to provide transportation to appointments, assist with meals, and help with other tasks around the house. It’s also important that where you will be recovering is also ready for you when you arrive.

Doing too much too soon or engaging in high-risk activity

After surgery, it Is possible to do too much! You need to give your body time to heal. There is a delicate balance here because we do want you to move. Severe pain or swelling are signs that you are doing too much.

For example, going out and shoveling snow would be over-doing it in the first few weeks after surgery. Your reaction time will not be as good as usual, placing you at a higher risk for a fall and an injury. It is essential to avoid falls, move safely, and follow instructions from your surgeon and therapy team post-operatively. 

Knee replacement surgery can change your life for the better. Learn more about the Total Joint Center at The Miriam Hospital and how we can help you.

Jillian Bruno

Jillian Bruno, PT, DPT, MBA

Jillian Bruno is a doctor of physical therapy and the program manager for the Total Joint Center at the Lifespan Orthopedics Institute.