Following Up with Your Orthopedic Surgeon

Recovering from a knee replacement operation is a long and complex process. At times it can seem overwhelming.

Once you’re on the road to recovery, your surgeon will schedule several follow-up exams during the first year, and periodically after that. However, the follow-up schedule will vary by surgeon and will at least partly depend on how well you’re doing.

Healthline research based on Medicare and private payer claims data found that, on average, patients visit their orthopedic surgeon approximately eight times during the first year following their total knee replacement surgery. However, some patients had fewer than three appointments in the same period.

During this period and beyond, there are many questions and concerns that may arise. There’s also a need for your doctor and physical therapist (PT) to monitor your improvement. You should stay in touch with the medical team throughout the lifetime of your replacement. 

Here are some of the issues that are important to monitor following a total knee replacement (TKR):

Do I Understand What I Need to Do?

During the week following your release from the hospital, your medical team will want to know that you understand how take care of yourself and use any of the equipment that’s prescribed to you. This includes your ability to:

  • use the continuous passive motion (CPM) machine, if prescribed
  • transfer yourself from the bed to chair or sofa
  • adhere to a home exercise program
  • use assistive walking aids such as crutches or a walker

You should make a list of questions and present them to your surgeon during the initial follow-up visit.

Am I Recovering on Schedule?

Although everyone and everybody is different, it’s essential to know whether you’re recovering and rehabilitating at the expected pace. Your surgeon will want to check on your progress in a number of areas, including your mobility and ability to flex and extend your knee. Together with your PT and surgeon, you will monitor the results as you strive to maximize your range of motion, including achieving at least 100 degrees of active knee flexion. You will also track your ability to do exercises and perform routine household tasks and discuss when it is appropriate to go back to work, drive, travel, and participate in regular activities.

Is Your Artificial Knee Functioning Correctly?

Your surgeon will want to ensure that the artificial knee is working correctly. He or she will also check for any signs of infection or problems. You should notify your doctor if you experience unexpected or excessive swelling, pain, numbness, or stiffness—though some pain swelling and stiffness is normal and not an indication that anything is wrong with the device. You should pay attention to your knee and report progress as well as any potential abnormalities. As your knee gains strength, you will want to see it manage basic activities such as walking, driving, and climbing stairs.

Am I Taking the Right Medications?

As you recover, you should wean yourself from pain medication, though it is not unusual to periodically require over-the-counter painkillers for up to a year or more following surgery. It’s wise to constantly review your situation and dosages with your doctor. Also, it is important to discuss any dental work or other surgical procedures that you might require. Your doctor may prescribe preventive antibiotics to avoid possible infection from these events.