Double knee replacement surgery – Part 1: Planning ahead

My husband Mark has been suffering from knee pain for several years now. Osteoarthritis runs rampant in his family. His mother had double knee replacement surgery about 20 years ago. Three of his older sisters have all had one knee replacement surgery. It’s Mark’s turn.

The symptoms Mark has are severe pain in his knee joints whenever he stands up or walks. He is able to walk for brief periods of time, but Christmas shopping was a challenge. While we were at Barnes and Noble picking up a few gifts, Mark sat on the floor when he couldn’t find an empty seat and I walked back and forth bringing him the items I picked out to purchase. Mark’s knees also make very loud crunching noises when he bends them. And finally, his legs have become quite bowed. I remember his mom’s legs looking that that before her surgery and how afterwards they were straight again.

Mark visited an orthopedic doctor last year and had laparoscopic meniscus repair surgery on one knee. That didn’t provide any long-term relief for his pain. We decided in the fall that it was time to seek medical help. Our orthopedic doctor sent us to a knee replacement specialist and Mark’s surgery was scheduled for January 30th. He will have both knees done at the same time if all goes well.

Image from

“During knee replacement, a surgeon cuts away damaged bone and cartilage from your thighbone, shinbone and kneecap and replaces it with an artificial joint made of metal alloys, high-grade plastics and polymers.” (

So far we have only visited the doctor and read information as a way of preparing for the surgery. Yesterday Mark visited our family practitioner for a pre-op clearance. We know that as he gets closer to the surgery he will have to stop taking the pain medicine he currently takes (nsaids). His doctor also wants him to start on a special nerve-affecting pain medicine some number of days before the surgery so that it has time to start taking effect.

I have visited a medical supply store to see what kind of mobility aids we might want to acquire. We have a pair of crutches in the basement that I need to retrieve. I think I will also get a chair with arms that fits over the toilet and raises the seat. I don’t know if we will need a walker. I think a shower chair might be good to have around, although Mark has been told he won’t be able to take a shower or get his incisions wet for 10 – 14 days. We go to a pre-op “What to expect” training session next week, so I should know more after that.

I want to switch sides of the bed we sleep in. Mark sleeps on the far side and has to walk around the bed to get in and out. It will save him a lot of steps if we switch.

When our sons were here at Christmas I asked them to move the recumbent cycle up from the basement and put it in our bedroom. I think cycling is good exercise for knees, and I don’t know how long it will take before Mark can walk a flight of stairs.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to think through all the tasks Mark typically does around the house that will be left up to me. Mark and I have very different ways of doing things. For example, right now the bird seed for the feeders is in three or four bags piled on the floor in the corner of our garage. This will not work for me. I don’t lift, move, or touch anything piled in the corner of a garage, basement, or any dark and dank location—spider phobia rule #1. We need to move the seed to my garden bench or his work bench on the other side of the garage if I am going to be able to feed the birds.

I haven’t made coffee in over 10 years, ever since I couldn’t drink it any more because of stomach trouble. Mark drinks it every morning. So I need to find out how he likes to make it.

Small things, I know, but there are a house full and life full of small things through which we will have to navigate for the first days and perhaps weeks with Mark not being able to walk or stand on his own.

I’m still trying to figure out what to do about the garbage. When our kids were little and conversations about gender roles came up, I told them, “There’s only one thing that girls can’t do.” This of course peaked their interest. “Girls can’t take out the trash,” I’d say. They’d energetically respond, “Yes they can!”

So, I suppose I can.

You can find links to the entire series on Bilateral knee replacement surgery here.

For more information about osteoarthritis and knee replacement surgery, visit


28 thoughts on “Double knee replacement surgery – Part 1: Planning ahead”

  1. I had knee replacement several years ago, after discomfort that started 10 years before. Although I had only one knee done, I understand that double replacement is becoming quite common. If I had one piece of advice for anyone going through this, it is: Find the best physical therapist around. And that may not be who your surgeon recommends. The surgery, itself, isn’t that bad. The real work starts in physical therapy. That will determine how quickly one recovers and to what degree. All the best to Mark. And you may discover a whole new set of skills!

    1. Our orthopedic doctor has a therapy group at his office that we used when we both had our miniscus surgeries. I think they were pretty good, but then I don’t really know how to judge.

      You’re right about the therapy.

  2. My friend just had both hips replaced. I cannot believe how quickly he was up and around and recovery has gone well. We are fortunate to live in a time where these things are possible.

    1. My mother-in-law, who is nearly the bionic woman now, had her hips replaced as well as her knees, although not all at once. She thought the hip surgery was much easier than the knee surgery.

      We are fortunate, though. Our ancestors’ options were quite limited.

      1. Hi Christine (I believe that’s your name):

        I am a 61 year old woman retiring at the end of this school year. After a knee appointment this week, I am probably going to have a bilateral knee replacement this summer. I’m feeling pretty anxious about it, especially since some days I do just fine, and other days my left knee (which the doctor says looks just like my right….no cartilage) hurts bad, but pretty inconsistently. Haven’t made the decision to do this for sure. Still thinking and praying about it.

        Anyway, it has been wonderful to come across this blog. I hope your husband is doing just great by now. Can you tell me how old he was when he had the surgery done?

        Thanks again for sharing so freely about this experience.

        Christy Holt

      2. Hi Christy,
        I hope you have read some of the other comments on the blog as many others have had the surgery at various ages. Mark was 55 when he had the surgery. He has been doing great since the beginning. You would never know that he had his knees replaced by looking at him. There is simply no comparison to what he is able to do now that he is virtually pain free. I understand the anxiety that this kind of surgery might cause, especially if you’re not completely sure you need it. Since you are uncertain, is there a reason you don’t want to do one at a time? I will say that the patients at the hospital where Mark was who only had one knee done had an easier go of it from the start. Good luck making your decision.

      3. Hi Christine:

        I was amazed and delighted to receive your prompt replay to a comment I made about Mark’s knee replacement, especially since I commented on a post from 2012 and it is now 2016. I am trying to figure out my options and listening to lots of comments from those who have done this. Also trying to figure out if stem cell therapy is an option. Not sure if you know anything about that. I do know that insurance doesn’t cover it yet. Anyway, thanks again for responding. There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors!


  3. my husband had a knee replacement done last Spring. Only one, not two, so I can only speak from that experience. A walker is a must, a shower chair and the one you mention for the toilet is a definite. And a cane. Be prepared for the extreme amount of pain he will be in for the first week to ten days. The hospital sent him home with a list of exercises that had to be done every day and I assisted and supervised those. It was six weeks before he could drive so I took him to his physiotherapy appointments three times a week. Your whole life is going to revolve around your husband for about a month! Oh, and ice-packs for his knees are also a must. And a friend – a friend who will come over and help keep you sane!!!

    1. I am prepared for two very bad weeks. I suspect we will think at some point that we made a mistake in following through with this. I know there will be a lot of exercises and therapy and that I will have to play a fairly large role in all of that. I am basically devoting the months of February and March to helping him with his recovery. If it goes too much beyond that, I may be out of patience.

      Thanks for the reminders about the ice packs.

  4. Dear Christine. I came over to wish you a belated happy New Year, and found this post. Certainly you have a trial ahead of you, but it sounds like planning ahead will get both of you through it. It’s not going to be easy for either of you, but preparation is half the battle. I knew a woman who had the same thing done. It was the hardest thing, she said, that she’d ever done, struggling to walk after surgery. And there was a lot of pain for her as “Joss” above says there will be for your husband. I’m sending my prayers and good wishes your way!

    1. Thanks, Ann. I remember visiting my mother-in-law in the hospital after her surgery. She was just getting pushed back into her room in her wheelchair following therapy and she was in tears. I expect it will be hard.

  5. Gosh, the surgery sounds dreadfully painful. Poor Mark. And poor you for having to pick up the slack. I’m sure you’ll be fine with the trash. Sara and I would be in trouble here in our house if women couldn’t take out the trash. My, what a pile we’d have by now. You’ll do great!

  6. One of my hubby’s coworkers had both knees done last year. He is so pleased to be able to walk without pain. I’ll never forget the day I saw my neighbor standing in her driveway, she had been in a wheelchair for quite some time. It’s life changing. The road there may be a little rough, but this too shall pass. Keep us posted so we can be praying for you and Mark.

    1. My mother-in-law had both knees (at one time) and eventually both hips done (one at a time). She always said the knees were worse than the hips. Mark doesn’t really have a choice. We will get through this.

  7. Thanks for all this, Christine. My surgeon has agreed to a bilateral procedure for me, which will take place in the early spring sometime. In the meantime I am left to second guess myself. I’m 67 and in good general health and fitness. I can walk 18 holes with mild discomfort, X-country ski, work out on the elliptical trainer at the gym and am generally much more active than most people my age. I have patella femoral syndrome which causes constant discomfort, occasional shooting pain and every so often results in acute inflammation which is extremely painful and immobilizes me. After a fall skiing I had surgical repair of my rotator cuff tendon a couple of years ago, so I am all too familiar with the hard work and pain involved in re-habilitation. I just worry that I’m doing something radical when I am clearly not having the difficulties that Mark had before his surgery. I think your blog will help me to finalize my decision. Thanks again.

    1. Good luck, Terry. I know decisions like this are hard to make. The surgery was the best thing we could ever have done for Mark. His knees are so much stronger now and rarely hurt at all unless he pulls a muscle or something. He is back to his aggressive gardening, or woods-clearing work. The knees are great. I’m not familiar with your condition. And I don’t understand how the knee resurfacing might help you. but if you decide to go through with it, I wish you the best of success, an event-free rehab, and a speedy recovering. Stop back and let me know how things are going.

      1. After spending a lot of time strengthening and improving flexibility in preparation for surgery, I have found that the resulting improvements plus dropping 15lbs or so, have led me to postpone replacement. My surgeon is in agreement. If I take a turn for the worse I can just get back on the waiting list without the need for a consult. I’m back into running, and will “compete” in a few 10k races this spring. We are off for a week skiing with kids and grandkids soon. That will be the acid test. Hope things are continuing well for you.

      2. Good for you Terry. I know that when my weight is up my knees hurt. Sometimes all it takes is a few pounds. Good for you.

  8. I had a double knee replacement Dec 4 2013. I prepared for the surgery by going to the health club for about a month and doing upper body stregnthing. I think this is a must for anyone considering this surgery. The arm strength really helped during my 3 day hospital stay and 6 day rehab stay. I haven’t finished my 4 th month yet and I have played 9 holes of golf 3 times.
    Any pre surgery strengthening is a huge help and the re hab you do after surgery really determines how quickly you get back to the things you love.

  9. Thanks to all who have commented! I am in the second week following bilateral knee replacement surgery and have found the information valuable in judging my own recovery. My surgery went well and I seem to be recovering more each day. The one exception is pain waking me up during the night. I seem to shift from bed to chair during the night and lack of sleep is my one complaint.

    Any suggestions?

  10. Even though this is post is a bit old now, I still found it very valuable as someone close to me is about to undergo a knee replacement. I’ll definitely be reading the entire series and the other resources I’ve already bookmarked. Thank you for writing these, I am sure you’ve helped a lot of people from all over the world :). Take care!


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