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How do I manage knee pain after a knee replacement?

Dr. Devi E. Nampiaparampil, MD
Pain Medicine Specialist

When you have surgery, you will get anesthesia that affects the whole body as well as anesthesia that affects the knee itself. This is called local anesthesia. Some anesthesiologists will put in an epidural, which allows them to inject pain medications into the epidural space of the spine, where the nerves that travel down the legs are located. After the surgery, once you are awake, you will receive intravenous (IV) medications, which are injected into the blood to help with your pain. Once you can eat, you will be switched to pain medications that can be taken by mouth. It's important to talk to your doctors about your concerns both before and after your surgery so that your pain can be well-controlled.

Dr. Travis M. Hendry, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

Pain is a normal part of your total knee recovery. Taking your pain medication as directed will help you feel better. It will also make you more able to do the physical therapy exercises that are necessary for your recovery. It's important to follow your doctor's instructions.

It may also help to apply an ice pack on your knee for 20 minutes, several times a day. Always place a clean cloth or bandage between your incision and the ice pack.

Take your pain medication 30 minutes before exercising.

Dr. Karen L. Gorton, PhD, MS, RN
Emergency Room Nursing Specialist

After knee replacement, your pain will be managed with pain medications. These medications may be given via the following methods: through your intravenous catheter (IV); with an injection; or with oral medications. With each passing day, the pain in your knee will decrease, which will also decrease the need for pain medication.

Everyone is different and responds differently to pain. For some people, the pain after knee replacement will be less than they had before surgery. For others, the pain will be similar to the pain that they had before surgery. But for all, the pain will decrease over time. 

Pain management after knee replacement requires a multistep approach.
  • Before surgery, physical therapy (PT) or prehabilitation helps make sure you are at maximum strength.
  • Several weeks before surgery, it’s recommended to stop all narcotic pain medicines.
  • Immediately before and during surgery, you receive pain medicines by mouth, injection and IV to ease immediate post-surgical pain.
  • Your anesthesiologist can also give medications that numb the nerves during this time period.
  • After the procedure, medications and PT exercises help you relieve pain and return to function. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.