If you read our recent blog on osteoarthritis – Why is exercise important for arthritis knee pain? – you’ll know that mobility is crucial for our knees. The benefits, both to joints and all-round health, are significant. For greater muscle support. For improved pain tolerance. For circulation, bone strength and even energy levels.
But what about after you’ve had a knee replacement? Though movement is uncomfortable in the early days, getting mobile is still important. In fact the ability to get up and about on a walking aid is one of the key criteria doctors use to judge whether you’re ready to go home from hospital. They want to know you’re getting good function and flexion in your new joint. But also that you can be independently mobile when you get home.
So how does that work – and what do the next stages look like? This is one of those areas where the journey looks a little different for every patient. But, typically, this is how your progression will go…
People are often surprised how quickly they’re able to get on their feet after a knee replacement. It may feel strange at first, but – mechanically – your implant is ready to use from the get-go. Even on Day 1, the nursing team will be encouraging you to get out of bed and moving independently. Usually, that will be with a walker (Zimmer frame). With four height-adjustable legs and horizontal handgrips, walkers provide good stability and balance as you test the weight on your new knee for the first time. A version with front-end wheels makes the frame more manoeuvrable as you build confidence.
Some elderly or frail patients prefer to stick with a walker when they leave hospital. Indeed, if stairs aren’t an issue for you at home, a walking frame could be a good option for your recovery over the short or even the medium term. Most patients, however, progress quickly to crutches. This usually happens within the first day or two of surgery. The nurses or physios will help you practise with them in the ward, then up and down steps. Bear in mind that crutches come in different forms, so you may want to discuss which type would work best for you:
Axillary crutches – have armpit rests, and require less upper-body strength and body control
Elbow crutches – have cuffs for your forearms and stick-style handles, and can be easier to manoeuvre
Gutter crutches – allow you to bear weight on your forearms, and can be helpful if you have multiple joint issues
Some patients progress straight from two crutches to none when the time is right. But you may prefer to retain some support before you do that. Generally, the advice around single-crutch use is to support the side opposite to your operated knee. So if your implant is in your right knee, you’ll likely use a left-sided crutch. This will help you maintain balance, and spread some of the weight from your knee towards your arm and shoulder, which in turn should help with pain relief as you reduce the forces going through your leg. As with walkers, you can usually borrow-and-return crutches from your hospital when you leave. But some people like to buy their own, especially if they plan to use them for a longer period.
For many knee replacement patients, the ultimate goal is to go support-free in time. But it really comes down to personal preference. A walking stick provides stability and leverage if you feel you need it; many people find that reassuring. There are social advantages to sticks, too. Though less supportive than crutches, they’re more portable. They also, perhaps, send out a different kind of social signal. Where a crutch implies accident or injury, a walking stick signifies something more intentional and lifestyle-oriented. Walking sticks can help to build your confidence as you get more mobile – whether temporarily, or in the years to come.
Interested in reading more about how to prepare for a knee replacement operation? You might find these articles helpful
Would you like to find out more about knee replacement with Chris Bailey Orthopaedics? To make an appointment with Mr Bailey, call our assistant Cheryl on 01962 8261207, or visit the booking form on our website. We’ll be really happy to help.