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What to Expect if You’re Having Hip or Knee Surgery

Surgery can be life-changing if you’ve been living with severe hip or knee pain and limited function as a result of arthritis or injury.

Whether you need a minimally invasive arthroscopic procedure or robotic-assisted joint replacement, our main goal is to return you to the activities that you love.

MedStar Orthopaedic Institute recently upgraded our clinics at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, MedStar Harbor Hospital, and MedStar Union Memorial Hospital. At MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, we’ve recently added eight new state-of-the-art operating rooms that are nearly twice as large as most operating rooms. This ensures plenty of space to accommodate our technologically advanced equipment—and additional staff for the most complex procedures.In addition, we’ve built a new preoperative assessment center (POAC) and post-anesthesia care unit (PACU), both of which are larger in size and offer you more privacy as you prepare for and recover from surgery.

No two surgeries are the same, and at MedStar Orthopedic Institute, our fellowship-trained orthopedists are dedicated to helping you restore function and relieve pain through a personalized treatment plan. If you’re considering surgery, talk to our experienced hip and knee specialists who can help you understand what to expect for surgery and recovery.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with a hip or knee specialist, please call:


What to Expect Before Hip or Knee Surgery

Before you are scheduled for surgery, your hip or knee specialist will conduct a thorough physical exam. During this appointment, they may:

  • Ask questions about your pain
  • Examine your range of motion and strength in the affected joint
  • Review your medical history
  • Take x-rays to see inside your knee or hip

Prior to your surgery, you will be matched with a patient care coordinator who will help you prepare for your surgical rehabilitation. Working closely with your physician and care team, the patient care coordinator’s goal is to help you return to your highest level of function, so you can live your life to the fullest.

Once your doctor recommends surgery, you can prepare by doing the following:

The length of your stay in the hospital after your procedure will vary depending on what kind of surgery you are having. In any case, plan to have a family member or friend drive you to and from the hospital. Consider the kind of vehicle that will be easiest to get into. Remember that it will be difficult to get into small cars if you are tall, and vice versa, if you are short, it will be challenging to climb into large SUVs.

Your orthopedic team will instruct you to stop eating and/or drinking at midnight before our procedure, including candy and gum. If you are currently taking medications, ask your doctor when you should stop taking the following:

  • Anti-inflammatories (e.g. ibuprofen)
  • Arthritis medications
  • Medications containing aspirin
  • Blood thinners (e.g. warfarin)

Depending on your condition, your doctor or physical therapist may recommend light activities that will help you build strength and range of motion in your joint. While it may be difficult, this can help to make your surgery and recovery successful.

If you are receiving total hip or knee replacement surgery, it will be helpful to attend our free online class that will prepare you for everything you need to know about your procedure. The class covers:

  • Normal anatomy
  • Types of orthopedic implant devices
  • Admission process
  • Your hospital stay
  • Therapy and exercise program
  • Medical equipment
  • Discharge planning (e.g. home health care, outpatient therapy, and follow-up visits)

Click to view our online interactive learning tools for patients receiving a hip or knee replacement.

It will be harder to move around your home after surgery. To make it easier, consider how you will:

  • Identify a caregiver to help you
  • Get in and out of your house
  • Navigate up and down stairs
  • Prepare meals
  • Safely bathe or shower
  • Care for animals or children

Now is the time to talk to your doctor about any concerns you have. It’s a good idea to ask your doctor questions specific to your case, including:

  • When should I stop eating or drinking before my surgery?
  • What kind of anesthesia will I need?
  • How will I move around after my surgery?
  • How will I control my pain?
  • How long will it take before I can bear weight on my leg(s)?
  • When can I drive again?
  • How can I safely shower with a brace or bandages?
  • When can I resume normal activities?

Do not shave your legs for five days prior to surgery to minimize the potential risk of infection.

Refrain from using any nicotine products at least 10 days prior to your surgery.

What to Expect on the Day of Your Hip or Knee Surgery

As you get ready at home for surgery, you should:

  • Shower with antibacterial soap
  • Brush your teeth (but don’t swallow the toothpaste)
  • Remove jewelry
  • Leave all valuables at home

Your care team will let you know where and when to register on the day of your surgery. Plan to arrive two to three hours prior to your scheduled surgery.

To help ensure a smooth check-in, please bring the following:

  • Identification (driver’s license or other photo ID)
  • Insurance and prescription cards
  • A list of all current medications
  • Someone to drive you home and help you move around once you’re there

After registering, you will meet with your surgical team in the Preoperative Assessment Center. Your care team will include a hip or knee surgeon, an anesthesiologist, and orthopedic nurses. They will answer any remaining questions you may have and help prepare you for the operating room.

If you are having a minimally invasive procedure, you can expect surgery to take an hour or less. The steps of your surgery will vary depending on the kind of procedure you receive.

What to Expect After Hip or Knee Surgery

After surgery, you will recover in a post-anesthesia care room or an orthopedic recovery room until the anesthesia wears off. An orthopedic nurse will:

  • Monitor your vital signs
  • Check your incision
  • Administer any IV fluids and/or antibiotics

A physical therapist and/or occupational therapist will also come to your room to help you:

  • Sit and stand
  • Walk with an assistive device (cane, crutches, or walker)
  • Navigate stairs with your assistive device
  • Complete exercises to help with circulation
  • Safely perform activities, such as getting dressed or transfer on and off the toilet

The length of time you will recover in the hospital will vary based on your surgery. Depending on your procedure, you may be able to go home on the same day as your surgery. In other cases, you may be required to stay overnight. In either case, plan to have a friend or family member drive you home.

Recovering from Hip or Knee Surgery

Your hip or knee replacement recovery will take some time, but your care team will give you instructions on how to recover at home.

Before you leave the hospital, your doctor or nurse will review discharge instructions with you and give you a written copy. Often, patients are able to return to driving in two to four weeks, dance in four to six weeks, and golf in six to 12 weeks.

In general, here’s what to do to continue a successful hip or knee surgery recovery:

Your activity level will vary depending on the kind of surgery you receive but we encourage you to keep moving. Continue doing exercises and follow physical therapy instructions as you gain strength. Use any canes, crutches, or walkers as directed by your doctor or physical therapist.

Please call your doctor to make an appointment after surgery when instructed by your doctor. At your first postoperative visit, your bandage may be removed for the first time.

When you leave the hospital, your incision will be covered with a dressing. Your care team will give you specific instructions for when and how to remove or replace your dressing. Swelling is expected after surgery so it’s important to use ice packs or some other form of cold to help reduce swelling.

It is normal to have some pain after surgery and everyone handles it differently. We will work closely with you to develop a pain plan and keep you as comfortable as possible. Your pain plan may involve ice, distraction, and deep breathing. It’s especially important to ask for pain medication and to visit the bathroom before your physical therapy session. Afterwards, you should ask for ice which will help to minimize swelling and pain.

We’ll also send you home with a plan to manage your pain and prescriptions for the medications that work for you. Follow the instructions on any prescribed medication. Keep in mind that it is not safe to drive after taking some medications. For that reason, plan to have someone else drive you until your surgeon says you can.

You will need to begin physical therapy to regain strength and mobility in your hip and knee. The length of your physical therapy may vary based on your condition and procedure. Your hip or knee doctor will provide instructions on the type, frequency, and duration of your physical therapy.

Many of the most frequently asked questions from joint replacement patients are about having sex. For more information on sex after joint replacement surgery, please visit or

It is important to keep your incisions as dry as possible, so try not to get them wet before your first follow-up visit. Your orthopedic nurses may recommend some of the following equipment to help you bathe safely:

  • Safety grab bars
  • Shower bench or chair
  • Sponge bath
  • Tub bench

Although unlikely, it is important to be aware of any sign of infection. Call your doctor if you have:

  • Green or yellow discharge around your incision
  • Increased redness around your incision
  • A fever above 101.5 degrees
  • A tender or swollen calf