Knee surgeries run the gamut from a simple cleanup of frayed cartilage to ligament repairs to a total knee replacement, with rehab times ranging from a couple of weeks to months.
You might not think all these different types of knee surgeries have much in common, but they do. If the prospect of knee surgery is in your future, regardless of the procedure, here’s what you need to know.
A High Success Rate
Knee surgeries in general have a very high success rate — but what does it mean for a knee surgery to be successful?
The answer can differ depending on the procedure.
For simple surgeries like cleanup of cartilage fragments or repair of a partially torn meniscus, success means getting you back to where you were before surgery with a minimum of discomfort or inconvenience.
With these surgeries, you’re often allowed to move your knee soon after surgery, and can quickly begin your rehabilitation with exercises like riding a stationary bike.
More complex surgeries like a torn anterior collateral ligament (ACL) or medial collateral ligament (MCL) used to carry with them a prognosis of compromised movement for the rest of your life.
Think of athletes like the late football star Gale Sayers, who had their careers terminated by knee injuries that today would only be a bump in the road.
Continual advancements in the diagnosis, surgical repair, and rehabilitation of ACL and MCL injuries mean a redefinition of success. Now, success for an ACL surgery is like success for a torn meniscus. People can get all the way back to where they were pre-injury (and with the help of specialized facilities like the Wisconsin Performance Institute, have the potential to return from injury moving even better than before).
Finally, there’s knee replacement surgery. There are two types of knee replacements with different recovery timetables and success definitions.
A total knee replacement replaces the joint with metal and plastic. Most patients who have this surgery may return home the same day, others may require an overnight stay in the hospital, followed by six to eight weeks of physical therapy.
While most patients who have a total knee replacement experience a better quality of life post-surgery, activities that involve running, jumping, and twisting are not recommended. Success in this case means not being able to do everything, but being able to do more things pain-free and returning to activities you enjoy. Walking, biking, swimming and golfing are great activities to enjoy after your knee replacement.
Some patients may be candidates for a partial knee replacement which has a quicker recovery time. The majority of these patients return home the same day, allowing you recover in the comfort of your home.
Ultimately each patient has their own definition of success, determined by talking things through with their orthopedic surgeon. At Stevens Point Orthopedics, we specialize in those conversations.
Different Surgeries – Same Process
Regardless of the type of knee surgery you’re having, the basic process is the same.
You start by meeting with your orthopedic surgeon to discuss the procedure, your questions, and your post-surgery goals.
On your surgery day, you arrive at the facility (the Ambulatory Surgical Center or hospital) and check in with staff. You will then change into a surgical gown and staff will review your medical history and assessment with you. Next, you will meet with anesthesia and have an IV started.
After the anesthesia staff reviews your health history, medications, and anesthesia options, you’re taken into the operating room for your surgery.
Once you come out of the anesthesia, your surgeon will explain what they found, what interventions they performed, and your post-op instructions.
If you had a joint replacement, your joint coordinator will give you additional care instructions and will coordinate your post-op physical therapy sessions to make sure everything’s proceeding according to plan. She will also call you the next day to check in to see how you are doing and address any new questions or concerns.
To summarize, it’s diagnose the problem, fix the problem, and get you up and moving again.
Movement Is Crucial
Okay, so about getting you up and moving again: No matter your surgery, moving your leg soon after surgery is vital to your recovery.
After discharge, you can get into your car and walk through the door of your home right after surgery—possibly with the assistance of crutches or a walker. (No driving though!)
With more complex surgeries, you may have to be on crutches or utilize a walker until you regain full sensation in your knee, can bear full weight on your knee, and can walk comfortably. However, even in that scenario moving your knee and doing non-weight-bearing exercises prior to weaning off crutches can help speed recovery.
And with joint replacements, you’ll be asked to do ankle pumps right after surgery as the first step in your rehab process. You will also be bending and walking on your new knee the same day of surgery.
The No. 1 reason to have knee surgery is so you can move better again. It’s no coincidence that the No. 1 thing to do right after surgery is to move!
Just remember, everyone’s diagnosis is different. Some ACLs are limited from bending the knee after surgery. Be sure to double check with your doctor about your specific limitations!
Rehab Is A Process
If your knee surgery requires rehabilitation, there’s one thing you need to know: rehab is a process, and you need to trust the process.
Will there be days when you don’t feel like doing rehab? Probably. But you’ll be better off and further ahead for having done it.
Will there be times when what you’re asked to do doesn’t make sense? Maybe– but that’s your opportunity to ask questions and understand the whys behind the request.
Will it seem long? Yes, at times. Will it seem like you’re not making progress? It’s a possibility.
However, following the schedule, working hard, and keeping a positive attitude will pay off with more strength, better movement, and an improved quality of life.
Look at it this way: You’ve gone through a lot getting your knee repaired. Why not go all the way, do your rehab, and enjoy the benefits provided by a repaired and fully rehabilitated knee?
Choose People Who Care About You
You’ll likely have choices of facilities and surgeons for your knee surgery. All things are not equal, choose the place and the people that care most about you – before, during, and after surgery.
Do you feel heard? Do you feel supported? Do you feel like treatment is geared toward your end goals?
If that’s not the case, you may want to look elsewhere.
Stevens Point Orthopedics is rooted in the community and area. We’ve been here for you for more than 50 years, and we’ll be here for you tomorrow.
Questions about knee surgery? Call us — we’ll help you find answers.