Walking after knee replacement
Keith Vavrinak is a physical therapist with Banner Estrella Medical Center.
Question: I'm told I'll need to "learn how to walk again" after my knee replacement. Why?
Answer: A total knee replacement gives a person a new start on life by replacing a painful, dysfunctional joint with one that works smoothly with little or no pain. However, surgery is just the starting point in returning to an active lifestyle.
Most joint replacements are performed to replace arthritic joints that have been getting progressively worse over a period of months, or most likely, years. This gradual progression of arthritic joint dysfunction creates changes in the way a person walks, runs and moves.
As movement of the knee joint becomes more difficult and painful, the body often compensates in an attempt to reduce the pain and yet still function as "normally" as possible. Often these compensations are such a gradual process the person may not even realize it is happening. However, this puts stress on nearby structures, because they cause the body to now operate in a manner contrary to its design.
Typical walking dysfunctions include taking a shorter step with the affected leg or bearing less weight on it by limping. Patients also might keep the knee straighter than normal while walking or keep the knee more bent than normal while standing. The distance between the feet, your "base of support," may also change, as well as the person's typical walking speed. Hip rotation, back posture and even arm swing may be affected. Some of these changes are quite noticeable, but others may not be as apparent.
After a new knee is implanted, patients are encouraged to seek therapy as the process of learning to walk properly again begins. Just as it took considerable time for your body to adapt in a negative way, it will also take time to train your body to move properly again.
Most people who undergo a knee replacement have been walking around for a number of decades without giving it much thought. At first, having to think and focus on each aspect of what was once an automatic activity can be a little daunting. However, with some time and guidance by a physical therapist, normal walking and motion can be achieved again.