Caring for a Loved One Who Had Recent Knee Surgery

The prospect of going through a surgical procedure on your knee, as well as the postoperative recovery, can be daunting for a patient. Knowing how to help as a caregiver can also be difficult. Here are some of the obstacles that people undergoing a surgical procedure on their knee joint may face and what a caregiver can do to help make the recovery process a little easier. 

The restrictions that somebody may face after undergoing knee surgery will depend on a number of factors. Probably, most importantly, is the type of knee surgery performed. Some of the common surgical procedures that may impair someone's function after surgery include:

By taking a few steps prior to surgery, there are ways that you can make a significant difference for the person who has to undergo the procedure.


Get the House Ready

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Probably the most helpful thing a caregiver can do is help to prepare the home for someone who may have restrictions in their activities and may require the use of ambulatory aids to prevent slips and falls. This may include clearing out hallways and living spaces to allow for maneuverability, rearranging furniture to allow for living on a single level, and even installing fixtures that allow for support.

Having a living space that includes a place to sleep, a bathroom, and the kitchen on a single level can be a big help. This is not always mandatory, but certainly, the fewer stairs to navigate after surgery, the easier it will be. Some people will move a bed onto the main living level, others will find creative solutions. Trying to anticipate these needs before surgery can definitely make the arrival home a little bit easier.

If there will be prolonged limitations in mobility, it may be helpful to install fixtures within the house that can help. Grab bars in the bathroom, railings along the stairs, easy entry showers, are all available for people who have mobility restrictions.


Have Prescriptions Filled

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Depending on the type of surgery being performed, it is not unlikely that one or more new prescriptions may be needed after the surgical procedure. Medications used after knee surgery may include pain medications, medications to reduce inflammation, blood thinning medications, and others.

Ask your surgeon if she can provide prescriptions prior to the day of surgery so that you can have these ready at home. Having to stop at a pharmacy on the way home from the hospital can be challenging, and sometimes it takes time for the pharmacist to prepare a prescription. Having to wait in the car can be uncomfortable and is certainly not necessary. Obtaining these prescriptions ahead of time and having them already at home is a big help.

Make sure the prescriptions and directions are understood and determine which medications need to be taken regularly versus those that may only be taken as needed. Having the medications understood and available prior to returning home from surgery can prevent problems. Trying to address these problems is always more difficult, especially outside of normal office hours.


Prepare Meals and Snacks

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Meal preparation can be daunting, especially for people who have had recent surgery on their knees. Typically people who have had recent knee surgery are using crutches or a walker, so trying to prepare a meal can be very challenging. Maneuvering around the kitchen is hard enough when having to use an ambulatory aid, and impossible if trying to carry cooking materials and food. Having pre-prepared meals that are easy to store and reheat can be a tremendous help.

Caregivers can also plan to be around at mealtime. This is a particularly helpful time for people who have had recent surgery to have someone around. Simply getting a meal from the kitchen to the dining space can be a challenge, so having an extra set of hands at that time, in particular, is helpful.

The best meals can be easily stored and quickly and easily prepared. In particular, having a few options that did not require any preparation or refrigeration can be particularly helpful. As stated, simply getting food from the kitchen to the dining area can be a major obstacle, and having some food available that does not require preparation in the kitchen can be helpful.


Anticipate Obstacles

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The restrictions after knee surgery will vary depending on the type of operation performed. However, it is not uncommon for people to require ambulatory aids such as crutches or a walker, and to have limitations in the amount they can maneuver, and possibly restrictions on their ability to drive a vehicle. These limitations may present obstacles that should be anticipated:

  • How to get to therapy appointments
  • How to get to doctor appointments
  • How to get a prescription refill
  • How to obtain groceries/go shopping

Trying to anticipate these obstacles, when they will occur, and who will be responsible for helping the patient, will help with some of the anxiety. Be aware as a caregiver that many patients do not want to ask for help. The best advice for a caregiver is to make plans to be available at these times, rather than wait for a patient to ask for help.


Being a Good Caregiver

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Being a good caregiver is is much about being available as it is about being a supportive friend. Caregivers do not necessarily need to stay with a patient at all times. A great caregiver will:

  • Be available if an emergency situation occurs
  • Help anticipate logistic challenges during recovery
  • Be a voice of support to help with recovery

A great caregiver does not necessarily need to be present at every moment. Do not be afraid to offer support, even if you do not have experience being a caregiver. If you are concerned about the time commitment, develop a caregiving team, so that you do not feel a burden of responsibility that you cannot accept. The fact is, at some point in our lives, we will need a little bit of help. Now is your opportunity to provide that assistance!

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.