When an arthritic knee causes pain and stiffness because of the wear and tear on the cartilage, many people turn to a surgical replacement of the knee. A total knee replacement involves resurfacing the end of the femur with a metal implant, the top of the tibia with a metal and plastic implant and resurfacing the underside of the patella. Most of the time, the new components are fixed into the bones with acrylic cement.
Immediate post-operative care requires physical therapy for several weeks, anti-coagulant medication commonly given to prevent blood clots, and pain management during the recovery and healing process. The surgeon will often prohibit you from driving for four-to-six weeks.
Travel during that recovery period can be tricky, but not impossible. You will need to plan your travel around your need for regular pain medication, applying ice packs to the knee and performing exercises prescribed by the therapist.
Tips for traveling during this immediate post-operative period include:
1. Avoid low seats which are difficult to arise from.
2. Bend and move your knee as much as possible to prevent stiffness.
3. Ice the knee several times a day for fifteen to twenty minutes to help the swelling and pain.
4. Follow the exercise plan the physical therapist has given you. Do not resume cycling or kneeling until the therapist tells you it is safe.
5. Use your walker or cane as instructed.
6. When going up stairs, lead with the non-operative leg. When going down stairs, lead with the operative leg.
7. Take small steps when turning, and avoid pivoting or twisting the knee.
8. Sleep with a pillow between your knees.
9. Keep your scheduled appointment with the surgeon who will want to check the healing of the incision and the mobility of the knee a few weeks after surgery.
10. Ask the surgeon before you resume any sports activities such as golf, bowling, jogging and cycling.
The immediate post-operative period following a total knee replacement usually lasts for several weeks. Knee stiffness and some discomfort can be common for up to six months after surgery. You can, however, resume most of your activities, including travel when you feel ready and with your surgeon’s approval. Long-distance travel requires the same precautions as any traveler would use: move around frequently to prevent blood clots from forming in your legs, stay well-hydrated, and remember what the physical therapist has taught you.
Your new knee may not feel the same as prior to surgery. For most people, it is much better.