Physical therapy key to recovery after knee replacement
The goals of every knee replacement surgery at OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital are to relieve disabling pain and restore function in the knee. Physical therapy plays a key role in the process by maximizing recovery and preventing complications after a knee replacement.
Chances are that for patients experiencing knee problems, the muscles responsible for supporting and moving the knee have weakened due to inactivity. Diligent and consistent performance of physical therapy exercises restores strength and range of motion, enabling patients to return to many of the activities they enjoyed before their knee problems.
Therapy begins in the hospital the day of surgery. A therapist visits patients to prescribe a few simple exercises, including walking and standing when possible. Early mobilization strengthens the new joint, counters the effects of anesthesia and promotes blood flow in the legs that encourages healing and prevents the formation of blood clots.
The length of the hospital stay depends, in part, on the patients’ ability to meet several performance goals such as bending and straightening the knee, getting in and out of bed, walking with crutches or a walker and climbing up and down a short flight of stairs.
Once patients achieve a certain level of independence either in the hospital, or, in some cases, a rehabilitation facility, they will be sent home with an outpatient exercise program that continues to build strength, stability and flexibility in the new joint.
The therapist and surgeon modify each program to suit the individual patient’s age, condition, goals and other factors. The outpatient therapy typically includes meeting with a physical therapist at Grady Memorial Hospital two to three times a week for four to six weeks. Many exercises are done while lying down or sitting in a chair. They not only address the knee but also general body conditioning to support the knee.
If needed, medication can be taken 20 to 30 minutes before a session to ease discomfort. Icing and elevation after a session can also relive pain and swelling. Pain usually subsides as healing progresses and restoration of function occurs.
Therapy strikes a balance between doing too much and doing too little. Patients will have good days and bad days but should notice steady improvement. The therapist and surgeon regularly monitor progress to make any changes necessary. Together they will make a decision about when patients can resume certain activities.
Physical therapy is more than exercise. It also involves taking care of the leg after surgery with wound care, pain management and diet. Even after patients have completed their medical recovery and regained full function of their new joint, their therapist and surgeon will continue regular assessments of their condition to optimize function in the new joint for years to come.
Dr. McGrail is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Delaware Orthopedics and Sports Medicine and a member of the OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital medical staff.