Is A Knee Replacement Painful?

by | Feb 23, 2023 | Joint Replacement, Knee

Woman holding her knee wondering if knee surgery hurts.

Knee replacement surgery is a common orthopedic surgery in the U.S. with the number of surgeries performed each year expected to hit 1 million by 2040. Main people wonder if knee replacement is painful. Knee replacement surgery is proven to provide pain relief, and improve mobility and quality of life, but it has a reputation for being painful.

Patients considering this procedure are often hesitant because they’ve heard that the surgery itself has a long recovery time and they wonder if the pain and time recovering will be worth the benefits.

Are you considering knee replacement surgery? Let’s first look at the facts- Most knee replacements are expected to last more than 15 years, and according to recent statistics, three to six weeks after surgery is the average time it will take to resume most daily activities.

How long does knee replacement surgery take?

During a total knee replacement, both sides of your knee joint are replaced. After the incision is made, the damaged ends of your thigh bone and shin bone are removed, the new joint is put in place and tested, and if more steps are needed, they are performed. This procedure is different for each patient and can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours.

What should I expect?

It’s important to note that everyone has different pain level tolerances, and no two cases are the same because our knees are complex joints. The knees are the second-largest joints in the body, after the hip joints. As such, a knee replacement is a complicated surgery that involves balancing ligaments, cutting into the bones of the knee joint, and replacing parts of the knee joint with artificial parts.

The manipulation of the knee joint to place the parts leads to pain after the procedure. Postoperative pain after knee replacement surgery is related to the healing, stretching, bending, and rotating that the knee must do after surgery.

What can I do to help ease the pain?

Once the knee replacement surgery is completed, it’s imperative that the patient gets up and walks on the new knee as soon as possible to prevent blood clots. Putting pressure on the newly operated joint, as well as bending the knee will cause initial pain but will fade as the healing continues.

Fortunately, knee replacement surgery technology and pain management have come a long way since the first days of the procedure, so today knee replacement surgeries involve less pain and patients can heal faster than ever before.

Will I have severe pain after knee replacement surgery?

Pain is to be expected after the initial knee replacement, but it should not be severe. The first few days after surgery should include the highest level of pain, but your doctor will send you home with pain medication adequate for your pain level.

Most people fully recover from knee replacement surgery in about six months. There may be a small amount of pain and soreness for the duration of the healing process, but this is normal. If you find yourself in severe pain after knee replacement surgery, call your doctor. You could be experiencing complications that require additional treatment.

How long will I need pain medication after total knee replacement?

Pain, swelling, and bruising are all normal after knee replacement surgery, both for partial and total knee replacements. You’ll be sent home with oral pain medications after your surgery, which you’ll take for several weeks after your surgery.

The most commonly prescribed pain medications after knee replacement surgery include prescription-strength naproxen sodium, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen. If those commonly used pain relievers don’t provide enough relief, your doctor can prescribe something stronger, such as hydrocodone or an opioid painkiller.

Narcotics are addictive pain relievers and can be taken safely after surgery but the duration of these drugs if chosen for use, should be limited as much as possible. Please speak with your physician before surgery regarding the pain protocols that will be used postoperatively

What is knee replacement recovery like?

Six weeks after surgery, you should be able to stop using your crutches and go back to your normal activities. But the pain and swelling might not go away for up to 3 months. However, the leg swelling can last for up to a year before it goes away.

You can drive again when you can bend your knee enough to get in and out of a car and drive it safely, which is usually 6 to 8 weeks after surgery. Your new knee could take up to 2 years to fully heal after surgery. During this time, scar tissue will heal and exercise will help the muscles get back to normal.

What not to do after knee replacement

After undergoing a partial or total knee replacement, there are certain movements to refrain from to avoid re-injuring your knee or causing pain.

Avoid any risk of falling – After knee surgery, it will take a while before you regain strength and balance in the leg, making you more likely to experience a fall. Avoid activities like climbing ladders and take care to hold on to handrails when using stairs. Hiking or walking on uneven ground should also be avoided until your knee is properly healed.

Don’t sit for long periods – Sitting for long periods after knee replacement surgery is correlated with a higher risk of blood clots. Make sure you’re getting enough light activity to support healing after your operation.

Running – Running puts three times the amount of pressure on the knee as walking. Avoid running while you’re healing from knee replacement surgery until cleared to do so by your doctor.

What can cause knee pain years after a knee replacement?

Knee replacements don’t last forever. Most knee replacements perform well and cause no issues to patients for 10 to 20 years after the operation. When pain occurs years after knee replacement, it’s typically due to one of these four knee replacement problems after 10 years or more.

Soft tissue irritation around the knee – The most common pain patients experience that occurs years after a knee replacement will be the soft tissue around the knee. Patients still have multiple tendons, ligaments, and muscles around the knee that may become irritated with varying activities.

The implant becomes loose – A loosening implant is a cause of pain that can occur years after knee replacement surgery. A loosening implant is typically caused by wear and tear over time, though it can be exacerbated by high-impact sports or obesity. A loosening implant can cause pain as well as instability in the knee and a change in the alignment of the knee joint.

Infection – The infection rate after knee surgery is very low, around 1 percent. If an infection does set in around the components of the knee replacement, it can be difficult to treat with antibiotics. Revision surgery may be necessary to get the infection under control.

Knee replacement recovery time

Healing and getting better after knee replacement surgery takes time. During the first six weeks, the wound heals quickly, however, full recovery can take anywhere from six months to a year or more.

After surgery, patients work to control pain, get back to a normal range of motion, and build up muscle strength through physical therapy. When a person is fully healed, their knee usually hurts less and has better function.

Have questions about your knee replacement?

The orthopedic surgeons at Tennessee Orthopaedic Clinics are happy to answer your questions and help you make the most of your knee replacement, so you can get years of pain-free use out of your new knee. Call us at (865)690-4861 to schedule your appointment today.