As the U.S. population ages, increasing numbers of people are undergoing total knee replacements. The authors of an April 2007 study published in "The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery" estimate that by 2030, more than 3.4 million Americans will undergo this surgery each year. While often successful at relieving pain and improving function, total knee replacement surgery is followed by a lengthy recovery period, typically lasting several months. Treatment initially focuses on swelling and pain control, knee flexibility and early walking. As therapy progresses, the focus shifts to improving strength and returning to normal daily functions.
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Initial Recovery Phase
People undergoing a total knee replacement typically stay in the hospital for 1 to 3 days after surgery. This timeline can be extended if there are complicating factors, such as an infection. After hospitalization, those who are not yet safe or independent enough to return home transfer to a rehabilitation facility. During their stay, people in this phase of recovery typically receive daily physical therapy focusing on becoming strong and independent enough to return home. The typical stay in a rehab facility after total knee replacement is 1 to 4 weeks. However, many people are able to return home immediately after their initial hospital stay. After returning home, people typically go through several weeks of home therapy until they are ready to begin outpatient treatment.
Long-Term Recovery Phase
Once outpatient physical therapy is initiated, people are typically seen in therapy 1 to 3 times per week. In total, a person undergoing a total knee replacement can expect to receive 6 to 12 weeks of therapy. While the biggest improvements in pain and function normally occur during the first 3 months after surgery, the authors of a study in the February 2001 edition of "Osteoarthritis and Cartilage" found that improvements continue up to a year after surgery. This timeline can vary depending on many factors. In general, people with lower levels of function prior to surgery can expect a longer recovery time after their operation.