Total Knee Replacement Surgery
Home Care Instructions
This handout will review the care you need
to follow once you are home. If you have
any questions or concerns, please ask your
nurse or doctor. Our staff is here to help
you. If you have questions after you are at
home, please call the numbers at the end of
What type of activity will I be able to do?
The recovery time after a total knee
replacement varies from person to person.
For most patients, recovery is a six to eight
week process. Surgery can cause you to feel
weak and tired. Common sense will tell you
when you are doing too much. On the other
hand, too little activity can delay the return
of your strength and stamina. Follow these
guidelines to help keep your recovery on
Follow the home exercise program
your physical therapist (PT) has
The correct use of your crutches or
walker will prevent injury to your
knee. You may need to use a cane
until you can walk without a limp.
By six to eight weeks most patients
no longer need to use a cane, walker,
or crutches. Walking is good for you!
Set a time to walk, at least twice each
day. As you get stronger, increase
the distance you walk each day.
Keep doing your exercises 3 times a
day for 3 months. Then, switch to a
maintenance program doing the same
exercises 3 times a week for at least
To prevent falls, use caution when
getting up too quickly.
Sitting in chairs with side arms or a
pillow on the seat will make it easier
to get out of the chair. Avoid sitting
for long periods of time.
Sleeping with a pillow under your
calf or ankle will help with pain and
swelling. Do not place the pillow
under your knee.
How do I care for my incision?
Keep your incision clean and dry.
You may leave it open to air when
the incision is dry.
Do not wash directly on the
incision. Wash around the incision
gently with soap and water and then
let air dry.
Do not use any creams, lotions,
ointments, or alcohol near or on
Check incision for changes in redness,
swelling, and drainage.
Some redness and swelling is normal.
A small amount of clear or slightly
blood tinged drainage from your
incision is normal.
If you have a brace, you will also be
given brace care instructions.
Mepilex dressing is waterproof, but we
suggest wrapping plastic wrap around
your dressing for showers. You will be
given instructions about when your
dressing should be removed when you
are discharged from your hospital stay.
What are signs and symptoms of
A fever of 100.5ºF or 38.1° C for 24
Increase in swelling
Increase in redness around the site
Increase in drainage from the site
A mild fever is common after joint
replacement surgery. A fever does not
always mean infection. The fever should
slowly decrease in time.
How do I prevent bruising and swelling?
As you become more active, you may notice
an increase in swelling in your leg or foot.
Bruising in your surgical leg, ankle and foot
are normal after surgery. There are some
things you can do to prevent or decrease this
Raise your leg between periods of
walking. Lie flat on your back, place
pillows under your ankle or calf.
Keep your knee higher than the
level of your heart.
Keep doing your ankle pumps
and quad sets. See PT
If swelling occurs after you exercise,
use the ice therapy method (an ice
pack or cryo-cuff).
What is Ice Therapy method?
Ice the incision site for 20 minutes as often
as needed. Do not put the ice directly on the
skin. Use a ready-made ice pack or put ice
in a plastic bag and wrap in a towel before
you use it. If you received a cryo-cuff,
someone will teach you how to use it before
you are discharged.
How will I manage my pain at home?
You may need to use pain medicine at home.
Do not drive if you are taking narcotic pain
medicine. The pain medicine can cause you
to be unsteady on your feet, nauseated and
constipated. Use as little pain medicine as
possible to control the pain. Do not use
more medication than what is prescribed to
Some patients find pain relief from methods
other than pain medicine.
Deep breathing exercises
How do I prevent constipation?
Many things can cause constipation. They
include: surgery, narcotic pain medicine,
decreased activity level, and a change in
your diet. You may need to take stool
softeners while taking pain medication.
What is a lood clot (Deep Vein
Thrombosis or DVT)?
Patients who have total joint replacement
are at a greater risk of getting a blood clot.
Blood clots in the leg are referred to as Deep
Vein Thrombosis or DVT’s
Signs and symptoms of a DVT include:
Pain or tenderness in leg
Swelling or redness in your calf
Call the Orthopedic clinic if you think
you have a blood clot in your leg
What is a pulmonary embolism (PE)?
A blood clot in your leg can break off and
travel to your lungs. This is called a
Signs and Symptoms of a pulmonary
embolism may include:
ξ Chest pain
Feeling short of breath
Cough with or without blood
Fast heart rate
Low grade fever or mild sweating
If you have any of these symptoms, call 911
or go the Emergency Department.
Will I be able to driving and travel?
Do not drive for 2-6 weeks after surgery.
Do not drive while taking narcotic pain
medicine. You may travel over two hours 6
to 8 weeks after your surgery. Stretching
every hour will decrease stiffness as you
travel. Metal joint implants may trigger
metal detectors in airports.
How will my knee replacement affect
future medical or dental treatment?
Do not have routine dental work done for 3
months after your joint replacement surgery.
If dental work must be done in cases of
infection or a dental emergency, please
notify the Orthopedic Clinic.
You will need to take a dose of antibiotics
before your dentist appointment or other
surgery to protect your knee joint from
infection. You will need this antibiotic
treatment before dental procedures for life.
Always tell your doctor or dentist before
any of the following:
ξ All dental care (includes routine
ξ Colonoscopy, endoscopy, rectal
Can I apply for disabled parking?
Ask the clinic staff how to apply for a
temporary permit at your first post-operative
When will my first clinic visit be
Your first clinic visit will be 2- 4 weeks after
surgery. This may have been scheduled
before surgery, or at the time of your
discharge from the hospital.
When do I call the doctor?
If you have an infection in other
places like your bladder, throat,
lungs, these infections can “travel” to
the knee and cause problems. Call
both your primary medical doctor
and your surgeon.
Increased tingling or numbness in
your leg or foot.
Increased pain, swelling, or redness
in or around your incision site.
An increase in the amount of
drainage, change in the color of
drainage, or any odor from your
incision. Be ready to describe what
the drainage looks like, how it
smells, and how much there is.
A new blister(s) near or on the
A temperature above 101.5ºF or
38.1° C for 24 hours.
Sudden increase in pain or pain not
relieved by medicine.
Severe leg swelling, pain, redness
and/or tenderness in either calf.
If you are experiencing shortness of breath,
chest pain, or a breathing problem that you
haven’t had previously, call 911!
If needed, can I refill my pain medicine?
If you need a refill on your pain medicine,
call the Orthopedic Clinic at
(608) 263-7540, Monday through Friday,
8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and ask for the nurse.
Please call when you have a 2 to 3 day
supply left of your medicine. Do not wait
until you completely run out. Be ready to
give the name and phone number of the
drugstore where you want to pick up a refill.
Please note that some pain medicines by
law cannot be called in over the phone or
Who do I call if I have questions?
If you have questions or concerns, please
call the Orthopedic Clinic, Monday
through Friday between 8:00 AM and 5:00
PM, at (608) 263-7540.
After 5:00pm and Nights and Weekends
For all questions call (608) 262-0486. If you
live out of the area, call
1-800- 323-8942. Ask the operator to page
the “orthopedic resident on call.” Leave
your name and phone number with the area
code and the doctor will call you back.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 12/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing HF#6288.