Being prepared is key to successful care after knee replacement surgery. The person will likely need help in some way daily until they heal and can return to regular activities. Full strength may take up to 6 months to return.
Recovering from total knee replacement surgery can be challenging, especially without the help of friends and family members.
For many people, the first few days at home are the most difficult. The person you’re caring for is likely to be tired and in pain. They may be frustrated or scared because it’s difficult for them to get around and do things on their own.
This is when you’re most needed. It’s important to be patient with your loved one as you adapt to your new role. Here are 10 things you can do to help make this transition smooth.
Preparing the home ahead of time can help ensure a smooth recovery. You may wish to set up a recovery room on the first floor. This room should house anything you may need, including:
- pillows for elevating the lower leg
- a bedside commode or urinal if the bathroom isn’t accessible
- a bed that isn’t too high or low off the ground
- ice packs for the knee
- a telephone, or cellphone and a charger, to call for help
- easily accessible, identifiable, and neatly arranged medications
- a walker or crutches
- writing materials to take notes or list questions for the healthcare team
- comfortable sleepwear
- comfortable shoes that are safe for walking around the house in
- bandages for changing dressings
- lights or lamps with easy controls
- clean, dry linens
Be sure to stock up on food and make sure useful items are easily accessible. Remove items from the floor that could cause a fall.
Standing, sitting, and moving from room to room may be difficult for the person you’re caring for. You may need to help them get around and complete daily tasks. This may mean preparing meals or helping with personal hygiene.
It’s important that the person takes all medications as their healthcare team prescribes. You may need to help gather the medications, make sure they take them on schedule, and monitor and renew prescriptions from the pharmacy.
You may find it helpful to use a daily medication dispenser. These can be purchased at your local pharmacy or online.
If possible, meet with the person’s doctor before outpatient care begins. They can go over what medications they need and answer any questions you may have.
You’ll also need to monitor the wound for swelling and inflammation. This may involve changing dressings and picking up medical supplies, like bandages, as needed. If the wound is getting redder, more swollen, begins draining, or has a odor, seek medical care. Wash you hands carefully before and after touching bandages.
Try to establish a routine where you dispense medications and do wound checks at the same times each day.
Over the next several weeks, the person you’re caring for will likely be unable to do anything that involves standing for long periods of time, stretching, or bending.
They may have a hard time completing household chores, preparing meals, or performing other tasks that require them to move from room to room.
Although they may be able to do light chores, like dusting, they won’t be able to do any heavy cleaning. This typically means that vacuuming and laundry are out of the question. If possible, take on some of these chores or arrange for outside help.
You may also need to assist with shopping and meal preparation for a while. Consider preparing frozen meals in advance, and asking other friends or family members to drop off meals during the first few weeks of recovery.
It’s important that your loved one is eating nutritious foods, taking prescribed medications, and getting plenty of rest immediately after surgery.
Keeping a calendar can help you track the person’s daily needs, and can also help you stay on top of their appointments.
Missing an appointment may lead to setbacks or other complications, so it’s important to take note of their follow-up visits and plan accordingly. This includes transportation.
The person you’re caring for will likely be unable to drive for the first 4 to 6 weeks following surgery. This means they will need someone to drive them to their appointments.
If any issues arise between appointments, don’t hesitate to reach out to the healthcare team.
This may include questions about:
- medications or unusual reactions to them
- elevated temperature
- increasing pain
- swelling or drainage from the incision
- episodes of shortness of breath or chest pain
Adhering to a rehab plan is critical. For many people, this means walking for 30 minutes two or three times per day. Doctors may also recommend exercising for an extra 20 to 30 minutes two or three times per day.
The person may find that walking or exercising is painful. This is normal. If they express a desire to discontinue with their rehabilitation plan, remind them that what they’re feeling is common and that rehab will help speed up their recovery.
Helping them chart their efforts, results, and progress may help keep them motivated. Exercising and walking with them may also help keep them on track.
Knowing more about the recovery timeline for total knee replacement can help.
It’s common to have questions after surgery and during rehabilitation. Go old school with a pen and paper pad or download a note-taking app so you can jot down questions as they arise.
You may also find that you have questions of your own about how best to provide care. Documenting your questions and concerns will help you remember to discuss them with the care team.
See this guide for ideas about what to ask the orthopedic surgeon after a total knee replacement.
It’s likely that the person you’re caring for is deeply focused on recovery. Because of this, an outside perspective may be especially helpful.
If you notice any significant change in their physical condition or mental state, it’s important to contact a medical professional.
A healthcare team may need to address any complications from the surgery, changes in the wound, or side effects from medications quickly.
A knee replacement is a complex procedure that requires many professional services. As a result, a flurry of bills and reports will arrive from multiple providers and locations over the span of several weeks.
Dealing with the physical recovery process may already be stressful. Falling behind on paperwork and bills can add to that anxiety. If you can, take the lead on any actionable notices from the care team. Staying on top of the paperwork can help the person you’re caring for focus on recovery.
To help keep paperwork organized, file everything in an accordion folder, or use a large binder with tabs for each type of correspondence.
Although a knee replacement is physically taxing, there’s also an important mental aspect to recovery and rehab.
The person you’re caring for may feel frustrated or impatient with the pain or a perceived lack of progress. Poor mobility may impact their attitude and sense of self-worth. Some people may experience postsurgery depression.
By providing ongoing support and encouragement, you can help your friend or family member speed up the recovery process, stay on track, and do the work needed for a full recovery.
People can sometimes take out their frustration on their caregiver. Clear communication, trying to express your feelings without blame, and listening to one another can help reduce the risk of hurt feelings.
It can be difficult to care for someone else if you aren’t taking the time to care for yourself. Make sure to take breaks and do things you enjoy, such as hobbies, visiting friends, or scheduling some alone time.
Try going for a walk, reading a book, or meditating regularly to keep stress levels down. Don’t be afraid to ask other friends or family members for help, especially if you feel overworked or overwhelmed.
Proper preparation can help you successfully care for someone after knee replacement surgery.
The person you’re caring for will probably need daily care from you or someone else every day at the start, but after a few weeks, they will need less and less assistance. It can take up to 3 months for them to return to their usual activities and 6 months to recover usual strength in the knee.
Caring for another person can be challenging. To effectively take care of yourself and them, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and make sure you take time to care for yourself.