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Pain After Knee Replacement? Learn What's Normal and What's Not

Knee replacement (also called knee arthroplasty) helps patients find relief to chronic pain. After full recovery, most adults have improved range of motion and can return to normal activities. But what if the pain persists? Know what type of pain is normal after total knee replacement surgery and when you should contact your physician for further care.

What’s Normal

You can expect some pain and swelling for a few months after surgery.

Improved surgical techniques and new technology, such as robotic-arm assisted technology, makes the knee replacement recovery process quicker and less painful. Nevertheless, pain and swelling following your procedure is to be expected, especially at night and with activity. Your body just went through a major surgery and needs time to heal.

Most people can resume daily activities with reduced pain approximately three to six weeks after surgery. Full recovery can take anywhere from four months to a year.

How to Relieve Pain

Immediately after surgery, your physician will prescribe pain medication for short-term relief. Possible medications include acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications or stronger prescription pain relievers, when necessary. Take all medications as instructed.

Attending your physical therapy sessions can help with pain. The main goals of physical therapy are to restore movement and strengthen your knee joint, but gentle exercise can also help lessen postoperative pain. Your physical therapist will give you a set of exercises that are safe for your healing knee joint. During early recovery, you may be prescribed to walk for 30 minutes and exercise 20 to 30 minutes, two to three times daily.

Mild swelling in your knee is normal for up to six months after surgery. To reduce inflammation, slightly elevate your leg and apply a cold pack. Wearing compression socks can also help reduce swelling.

What’s Not Normal

Notify your physician immediately for possible signs of complications from surgery.

While you may not be living completely free of discomfort, you shouldn’t be struggling with excessive amounts of pain either. Learn to recognize these signs of surgery complications:

Blood clots

  • Intensifying pain in calf
  • New inflammation in your ankle, foot or calf
  • Redness or sensitivity near your knee
  • Sudden shortness of breath and chest pain (May be a sign a blood clot has traveled to your lung. Call 911 immediately.)

Implant loosening

  • Feeling unstable or like your knee is “giving way”
  • Pain, swelling or drainage due to infection, which can occur even years after surgery

Infection

  • Changes to your wound, including drainage, increased redness, tenderness or swelling
  • Chills
  • High fever
  • Increased pain during activity and at rest

If you suspect you have a blood clot, infection or implant failure, call your physician or orthopedic surgeon to explain symptoms. Your provider will give you instructions on further care. In the case of implant loosening, you may need to discuss revision surgery to repair the knee after recent wear and tear.

If you are considering knee replacement, don’t let pain scare you away. Most people experience less pain with their new joint over time. Your health care team will also educate you about how to avoid possible complications. Ask your physician if joint replacement is a good fit for you.

Have more questions about total knee replacement? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.