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Ask an orthopedic surgeon: How to prepare for knee replacement surgery


by Paul Johnson, MD

Finally, your total or partial knee replacement surgery is on the calendar. You’re looking forward to stronger knees, more mobility and less pain. You might even be a little nervous. But are you really ready? Have you done all the necessary prep work?

Many of my patients ask what they can do to reduce their stress level leading up to the big day and help make sure their recovery goes as smoothly as possible. The best advice I have is to be prepared. The time you spend preparing for your knee replacement surgery is just as important as your recovery time.

With the right preparations, you’ll set yourself up for success. Below I go over some of the steps you should take leading up to your knee replacement surgery.

One month before knee replacement surgery checklist: Prepare your mind, body and home

Your surgery might still feel far away, but it’s coming up faster than you think. Here’s what you should do a month before surgery.

Prepare your home for life after knee replacement surgery

Walking and moving around the house may be difficult for you in the first days and weeks after your surgery. Your body needs time to heal. So, it’s important to take some steps to prepare your home for after knee replacement surgery.

Here are a few things you can do before surgery to make your home safer and more comfortable for you while you heal.

  • Move tripping hazards to avoid falls. Items like throw rugs, children’s toys, electrical cords and general clutter can get in your way and cause you to trip or slip. So, make sure your floors are clear.
  • Clear a walking path around all furniture. You’ll likely need a walker, crutches or walking assistance from a loved one for a while after surgery. Rearranging your furniture so you can easily move around it can make your recovery easier. Try to create pathways that are at least three feet wide.
  • Place items you’ll need within reach. You might have trouble bending down after surgery. Take anything you need regularly out of lower cabinets and store them somewhere you can access them without bending your knees. Keeping a grabbing device nearby can also help you pick up items that are low to the ground.
  • Consider adding safety rails to your bathroom. This will make it safer and easier for you to use the bathroom.
  • Arrange a one-level living space. Stairs can be difficult to climb while you’re recovering. If you live in a house with multiple levels, consider adjusting your living space as much as possible so you can recover on one level.

Start exercises to strengthen your body (and knee) before surgery

Strengthening and conditioning your body before surgery can help your recovery in a number of ways. Strengthening your upper body, for example, can make it easier to use assistive devices like crutches or wheelchairs.

Exercising in the lead up to knee replacement surgery can also lead to weight loss, which can help ease pressure on your knees before and after the procedure. In fact, studies show losing one pound of weight can relieve four pounds of pressure on the knees.

As for the kind of exercises you can do before knee replacement surgery, lower impact exercises and activities like biking or swimming can be good candidates – especially if you’re in pain.

Ask for help from family and friends

Recovery can be hard on your body. Getting support from friends and family can help you focus on healing.

  • Make arrangements for child or pet care, if needed. This can help ease any stress you may have and make sure your loved ones are cared for.
  • Arrange help with errands. You won’t be able to drive for a few weeks after surgery. So, ask for help with activities like grocery shopping and picking up prescriptions in advance.
  • Make a meal schedule. See if your friends and family will drop off meals during your recovery, or help you make meals you can freeze ahead of time.
  • Ask for help with chores and other household needs. This could mean asking a neighbor to mow the lawn for a few weeks or seeing if a family member can help out with laundry.

Making plans for help a month in advance helps ensure that you don’t forget to ask for anything you need, and gives your loved ones time to adjust their schedules so they can support you during your recovery.

Cut back on substances

The effects of alcohol and tobacco can complicate your surgery and make recovery more difficult. Tobacco can increase your risk of developing blood clots and other complications after surgery.

Let your doctor know if you smoke or if you have a drink almost every day. We can guide you toward resources for quitting or reducing your substance use before surgery.

Schedule your pre-operative appointment

Before you arrive at the hospital or surgery center on the day of your surgery, your doctor and care team want to make sure you’re physically and mentally ready for the procedure – something we’ll get to more in the next section. So, you’ll need to have a pre-operative (pre-op) appointment.

At TRIA, we’ll help you schedule all your appointments leading up to surgery. In many cases, video visits and phone visits are available with our pre-op nurses.

One week before knee replacement surgery checklist: Your final doctor’s appointment and preparations

You’re in the homestretch now! At this point, you should be well prepared for your surgery. But there are a few key steps that happen this close to your surgery date.

Go to your pre-op appointment

About a week before surgery, you’ll have that pre-op appointment to make sure you’re physically and mentally ready for surgery.

During your pre-op appointment, you’ll be checked for any symptoms of an underlying condition (e.g. hypertension, cardiovascular condition, respiratory concern) or illness. They’ll also talk to you about your medical history.

Then a nurse or other member of the care team will go over what to expect during your surgery and after, including possible knee surgery complications, when you’ll start physical therapy, and much more. At TRIA, our pre-op nurses do everything they can to teach you about your surgery and recovery so you feel prepared.

If you need any special care during your surgery, we’ll explain what we’ll do to keep you healthy and answer any final questions you have.

Check with your doctor to see if you need to adjust your medications

Some medications can interfere with your recovery. Your doctor will give you detailed information about what medications you need to stop taking in the days leading up to your surgery.

Common types of medicines patients need to avoid for a certain amount of time before surgery include:

  • Blood thinners – Blood thinners (or anticoagulants) can increase your risk of bleeding.
  • Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – NSAIDs like ibuprofen or aspirin can also increase your risk of bleeding.
  • Other medications – Some types of antidepressants and medicines that help with neurological conditions called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) can interfere with anesthesia. Also, make sure to talk to your doctor about any other vitamins or supplements you’re taking. They’ll let you know if it’s safe to use those leading up to surgery.

Arrange a ride home

You’ll need someone to take you home after your procedure. A week before surgery, arrange a ride. Our patients typically get a ride from a loved one.

If you need help finding a ride, let us know. The team at TRIA can help you find resources to make sure you get home comfortably and safely after surgery.

One day before knee replacement surgery checklist: A few last things to keep you comfortable

If you follow your doctor’s instructions, you’ll be well-prepared the day before your surgery. At this point, there are just a few things to do.

Pack your bag

What should you have in your surgery go-bag? Everything you need for your check-in, surgery and recovery, including:

  • Your picture ID, insurance information, emergency contact information.
  • Comfortable clothes to wear when leaving the hospital or surgery center.
  • Toiletries and other hygiene items – especially if you’ll be recovering away from home for a night or more. These could include your preferred moisturizer, toothbrush, hairbrush or other items that will help you feel comfortable.
  • Your cell phone, charger and headphones in case you plan to make any calls, listen to music or watch videos after your surgery.

Books, game or something else to keep you entertained while you’re waiting for your appointment and recovering.

Reach out with any final questions

If you have any final questions about what to expect during your surgery, what recovery will be like or about your risks during knee replacement surgery, now is the time to ask.

Give your care team a call. At TRIA, our pre-op nurses want to make sure you’re educated and calm before surgery. We’ll answer your questions and help put your mind at ease. It’s important to us that our patients don’t have any unanswered questions before their procedures.

About Paul Johnson,  MD

Paul Johnson, MD is an experienced orthopedic surgeon, specializing in hip and knee replacement surgeries, including revision surgery. He also serves as the Medical Director of Joint Care Services for HealthPartners Care Group, which means he’s responsible for delivering the highest quality, cutting edge care for joint replacement patients across our entire organization. What he loves most about his work is connecting with patients on a personal level, and helping them maximize their ability to live an active and pain free lifestyle.

 

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