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Common questions when leaving the hospital after knee replacement surgery

How soon can you take a bath or shower?

  • If you still have staples or stitches, you can cover your incision with plastic to keep it dry when taking a shower.
  • Check with your doctor as to when your incision can get wet.
  • You can take a shower as soon as you feel confident to do so.
  • Using a tub or shower chair in the bathtub or shower may offer you extra support and comfort until you are able to become more mobile (able to move around).
  • Do not take a tub bath until your surgeon says it's OK.

How do you take care of your incision?

You should look at your incision every day and keep it clean while it heals.

  • Do not put any creams, salves or ointments on the area.
  • If Steri-StripsĀ® (thin paper strips) were used on the incision, they will fall off as the incision heals. They don't need to be replaced.
  • If staples were used, they will be removed at your follow-up doctor appointment.

Change your dressing as instructed by your nurse.

  • Wash your hands before starting the dressing change.
  • Remove the old dressing by only touching the edges. Throw away the old dressing in the garbage.
  • Wash your hands again if you touched the underside (skin side) of your soiled dressing.
  • Open a sterile dressing package by holding the upper two edges of the package and pull sideways, rather than tearing the package open.
  • Keep the new dressing inside the sterile package until you are ready to put it on your incision.
  • Touch only the edges of the new dressing. Do not touch any part of the dressing that will be on the incision.
  • Tape all sides of the dressing securely.
  • Wash your hands when the new dressing is on.

When can you return to your normal diet?

As soon as you are able, eat well-balanced meals to help you recover more quickly and to help you feel your best. What you eat after your surgery affects your well-being. You need to eat healthful meals and drink lots of liquids.

Follow these guidelines to have a balanced diet:

  • Resume your normal diet as soon as you can.
  • Do not skip meals. Eating three balanced meals is essential to maintain your health.
  • Balance your diet between the basic food groups: dairy, meat, fruits, vegetables and grains.

What causes constipation?

Constipation can be caused by pain medicine, iron tablets, improper diet and decreased activity.

Constipation can be relieved by:

  • drinking 6 to 8 glasses of fluid each day
  • keeping active
  • increasing the fiber in your diet with whole grain bread, bran cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables
  • decreasing the use of your pain medicine when you can.

Talk to your doctor if your constipation lasts.

When can you drive a car?

  • Talk with your doctor about when you can resume driving.
  • You should wait to drive a car until after your first doctor appointment after your surgery.
  • Do not drive while taking pain medicine because it can impair your judgment and ability to operate the car safely.
  • Do not use your involved leg to operate machinery until 6 weeks after surgery.

When can you return to work or your hobbies?

  • Discuss returning to work or hobbies with your doctor.
  • Ask your occupational therapist how your activity restrictions will affect your hobbies.

What precautions should you keep in mind?

Inform doctors and dentists of your knee replacement before having any surgery, podiatry procedures, dental work, X-rays, or other tests or procedures. You may need to take antibiotics.

How long do you need to wear elastic socks (graduated compression stockings)?

  • You should wear them until your first doctor visit after your surgery.
  • Wear the socks 24 hours a day. Remove the socks for 30 minutes twice a day, and to take showers.
  • You can wash and dry the elastic socks.

When can you resume sexual activity?

You can resume sexual activity when you are ready.

  • A firm mattress is recommended.
  • Be the passive partner for the first 6 weeks after surgery.
  • Use the missionary position or less dominant position.

When do you need to see your doctor?

Call your doctor's office for a surgery follow-up appointment if you don't already have one or if you have any questions or concerns. See the worksheet Questions For My Doctor at My Surgery Follow-up Appointment about questions to ask your doctor.

When should you call your doctor?

Call your doctor if:

  • you develop a temperature of 101.6 degrees Fahrenheit
  • you have nausea and vomiting that won't stop
  • you have severe pain that cannot be relieved
  • your incision is red, tender, has drainage, or signs of infection: pain, swelling, redness, odor, warmth and/or green or yellow discharge
  • you have severe headache
  • you have problems with your vision
  • you have feelings of being dizzy or lightheaded
  • you have hives (itchy raised rash)
  • you have problems breathing
  • you are very tired (fatigue)
  • you have any change in sensation (such as new numbness or tingling)
  • you have any change in movement (such as new weakness or inability to move as usual)
  • you have new confusion
  • you have any change in loss of bowel or bladder function
  • you have any questions of concerns.

In an emergency, call 911 or have someone take you to the nearest hospital emergency department.

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Source: Allina Patient Education, Total Knee Replacement, third edition, ortho-ahc-90140

First published: 10/01/2000
Last updated: 12/01/2006

Reviewed by: Allina Patient Education experts