If you’re scheduled for knee replacement surgery, your surgeon has probably already told you that your recovery will take a while. In fact, it may be 12 weeks or more before you get fully back to your regular everyday activities. For an easier recovery, experts recommend taking the following steps to prepare your home before surgery.
1. Create a first-floor sleeping space
Navigating stairs is tough immediately after knee surgery, says Geoffrey Westrich, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and a professor at Weill Cornell Medicine at Cornell University.
If you normally sleep upstairs in a multistory home, consider converting a space downstairs into a bedroom for a few weeks. Set up a temporary bed, or sleep on a couch or recliner. Ideally, “you need to be able to access your bed, a bathroom and the kitchen all on same level,” Westrich says.
2. Prepare a recovery area
Initially, your go-to chair should be a sturdy, stable one with arms to help you stand up or a recliner so you can elevate your leg, Westrich says. Placing a firm cushion on the seat of the chair can also help when you stand up. If you don’t have a recliner, you can use a footstool to elevate your leg.
Place items you might need — tissues, glasses, TV remote control, reading materials, wastebasket, laptop — within easy reach.
Westrich also recommends strategically placing chairs in other rooms in case you need a sitting break.
3. Preorder medical equipment
Talk to your surgeon’s office about the type of durable medical equipment needed to make your home comfortable during recovery. Surgeons’ offices often have someone who can work with the hospital to order the necessary items and have them delivered to your home, says Morey Menacker, D.O., a geriatrician and regional medical director of the Orlando, Florida, market for CenterWell, a subsidiary of Humana.
Depending on where you’re having the procedure done, you may have to order your own walker, cane or crutches. You will also need to rent or buy a shower chair or bench to sit on while you bathe, Menacker says. If your toilet seat is low, a toilet seat extender and a toilet seat frame make it easier to get on and off. You can rent a bedside commode if you don’t have a bathroom on your first floor.
Medicare and other types of medical insurance typically cover the cost of renting durable medical equipment, but it’s a good idea to confirm that first.
4. Prepare your bathroom
Install a handheld adjustable showerhead attachment for easier bathing, and mount grab bars in the bathtub or shower area and next to the toilet for support, Menacker advises. Grab bars will continue to pay dividends long after you recover from your knee surgery, helping to prevent falls for years to come.
A shower sponge with a long handle can help you wash hard-to-reach areas without bending over, and a nonskid bathmat will keep the floor dry and help prevent slipping.
5. Stock up on ice packs
Icing your knee following surgery is critical and has been shown to reduce swelling, pain and inflammation to allow for a greater range of motion. You can use regular ice in a ziplock bag, bags of frozen vegetables or get special ice packs that wrap around your knee.
If it’s possible, Westrich recommends renting an ice therapy machine that applies cold therapy along with compression. “A lot of my patients who did one knee years ago and another knee more recently have said emphatically that having an ice machine, they noticed a huge difference in their recovery,” he says.
Most patients rent the machine for two weeks following surgery, he says.
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6. Declutter, clean and stock your freezer
Look around your home and think about how to make it easier to navigate with a cane, walker or crutches. Put away throw rugs and electrical cords, which can catch on a dragging foot or walking aid, Menacker advises. Move furniture to make wide, clear pathways.
This is also the time to give your home a good cleaning — dust, vacuum and mop — since those chores will be difficult after your surgery. Do all your laundry and change the sheets. Place houseplants in one area to make watering easier, and stock your freezer with meals that are easy to heat.
7. Line up help in advance
Arrange for someone to mow your lawn, bring in the mail, shop for groceries and help with other chores postsurgery. Most patients aren’t able to drive for two to eight weeks, depending upon which knee was operated on.
If you have a dog, hire a walker or board it for a few weeks. “I’ve had patients fall walking their dog,” Westrich says. “Even simple things like cleaning up after your dog requires you to lean down, and it’s not easy to bend over right away.”
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8. Consider what else you might need
Depending on how much help you have, you may want to invest in other items to make the activities of daily living easier postsurgery, Menacker says. A reacher can help you grab hard-to-reach things at higher and lower levels. A sock aid can help you pull on your socks, and a long-handled shoehorn can guide your foot into a slip-on shoe.
“A lot of what you need depends on what kind of home situation you have and whether you have someone who can help with your care,” Menacker says.
Michelle Crouch is a contributing writer who has covered health and personal finance for some of the nation's top consumer publications. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Prevention, The Washington Post and The New York Times.