Knee Replacement Recovery Time

Written By: Chloe Wilson, BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed by: KPE Medical Review Board

Knee Replacement Recovery Time: Find out what you can do to make the best recovery after knee replacement surgery

Knee replacement recovery time will vary for each person.

It will partly depend on how well you prepared for surgery and what you are aiming to get back to, but here you will find a good guide as to what to expect.

Most people make an excellent knee replacement surgery recovery and are up and about very quickly. Gone are the days when people were in hospital for two weeks after their surgery. Now it's up and about straight away and home in just a few days.

Knee replacement recovery begins before your surgery. You will have a rehab program to work on which you can actually start before your operation to get your muscles in the best shape possible which will really help. The people who make the best total knee replacement recovery are the ones who start the rehab process before their operation.

Knee Replacement Recovery Time Guide

Here we will look at total knee replacement recovery time, including what happens at what stage post-op and how long it typically takes to get back to your usual activity.

If are having or have had only one side of your knee replaced, visit the partial knee replacement recovery time section instead to found out how it will be for you. 

Knee replacement recovery time will vary from person to person, and may be affected by:

  • Severity of arthritis 
  • Activity levels prior to surgery
  • Weight
  • Age
  • Compliance with exercises pre and post-op

Let's have a look at a typical knee replacement recovery time process.

1. The First Week

After total knee replacement surgery you will be able to get out of bed and fully weight bear on your new knee within 24 hours. Don't worry, you won't be alone, the physiotherapists will help you.

You may feel slightly dizzy the first few times you get up after your knee replacement and may find it a bit awkward getting in and out of bed but this will quickly pass. Your physio will give you a frame, crutches or sticks to use for the first few days, depending on what technique the surgeon used and how much pain you are in.  

You may need to use crutches during part of the knee replacement recovery time

You will start your knee replacement exercises straight away, i.e. the same day as your operation, and will progress through the rehab program as instructed by a physiotherapist over the next few weeks.

Starting exercises as early as possible, and sticking to them religiously really helps speed up knee replacement recovery time. It might feel uncomfortable to start with, but it will make all the difference.

You may also use a CPM machine (continuous passive motion). This is a specially designed device that sits underneath your leg and bends the knee up and down for you. It can be set to bend a straighten through different ranges so as your knee movement improves, it can be adjusted to allow a great range of movement. 

A CPM should be used alongside knee exercises, not as a substitute as it is really important that the muscles are doing some work too so you can make the best knee replacement recovery.

2. Discharge Home

People are normally discharged from hospital after 2-5 days (sometimes longer) after a knee replacement depending on how they are doing. Some people even manage to get home the same day as their operation!

Before you can go home after a knee replacement, you will be able to:

  • Get in and out of bed by yourself
  • Walk safely with or without crutches/sticks/frame
  • Climb steps and stairs: unless you don’t have any or are planning to sleep downstairs
  • Stretch your knee out fully straight: some doctors will allow you to go home before achieving full extension
  • Bend your knee well, preferably at least 90°

Related Article: Top Tips On Getting Up & Down Stairs >

3. The First Month

Once you are discharged from hospital, you will continue your knee replacement recovery at home. Your knee may well be sore and swollen after your knee replacement initially but the pain is often much less than before the surgery as you will no longer be getting any knee arthritis pain.

As the knee heals, your post-op knee replacement recovery pain will settle down, usually within a few weeks and you'll be advised on how to wean off your medication.

One of the best ways to reduce pain and improve range of motion after a knee replacement is to get any knee swelling down as quickly as possible using things like Ice and Tubigrip (a special compression bandage).

Knee replacement recovery time will be affected by what you do before and after your operation

After about a month you should notice quite a dramatic improvement in your knee.

Knee replacement recovery time will be impacted by how well you comply with the recommended rehab programme. It is really important to be doing exercises to build up the strength and flexibility around your knee to gain the full benefit of the surgery (see the exercises for knee replacement section).

During this period of knee replacement recovery time be aware of:

  • Wound Care: You must keep the wound clean and dry until the stitches are removed, usually after 7-10 days.

  • Driving: You can drive after 4-6 weeks, as long as you can perform an emergency stop.

  • Walking: You will be able to stop using any walking aids such as crutches or sticks as soon as you feel able – usually in a few days, and certainly by six weeks.

4. The First 3 Months

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The next phase of knee replacement recovery time focuses on regaining full functional ability at your knee. Whilst you can do most things at this stage on your new knee there are a few things you need to be careful of.

For 6-8 weeks after knee replacement surgery you should avoid:

  • Any pivoting (twisting) on your knee
  • Kneeling
  • Squatting

Other than this, you you will need to continue with your knee replacement rehab program for at least 3 months after knee replacement surgery, probably six months to get the best result from your operation.

You will be able to progress your exercises as your knee gets stronger and more flexible - visit the rehab section to find out more. The more you stick to your exercise program, the shorter your knee replacement recovery time is likely be.

Returning to Activities / Sports

With knee replacement recovery time is one of the biggest healers. Over time the swelling will reduce, your muscles will get stronger and your knee should free up becoming more flexible than beforehand.

It is important to take things easy for the first few weeks but after that, you can start thinking about returning to your favorite activities. Here are some helpful tips on knee replacement recovery time:

  • You can resume most activities after 6-12 weeks, for example swimming

  • Some activities should be carried out with care e.g. golf – don’t wear shoes with spikes

  • Some activities are not advised following a total knee replacement as they put too much stress on the new knee joint. These include: jogging, contact sports e.g. basketball and football, squash, badminton, jumping activities and skiing. If you are unsure, discuss things with your doctor.

Pain and swelling can take up to 3 months to settle and knee replacement recovery time continues up to 2 years after your operation.

Knee Replacement Recovery Tips

Here's some top tips for four common questions about total knee replacement recovery time:

  1. How Long Does The Pain Last? Many people find they have less pain after their knee replacement as the arthritis pain is no longer there. The post-op pain usually settles down within 6-12 weeks although their may be some residual pain and swelling for up to a year.

  2. How Do I Sleep After A Knee Replacement? Typically people find it most comfy to sleep on a firm mattress, either lying on their back or on their side with a pillow between their legs.

  3. Can I Kneel Down With My Knee Replacement? Yes you can although it may be uncomfortable in which case use a cushion or knee pad. Kneeling won't cause any damage to the knee replacement and certainly won't delay your knee replacement recovery time.

  4. How Do I Make the Best Recovery? In order to make the best knee replacement recovery, follow all the advice from your doctor and physical therapist. Start exercises prior to surgery, get up and about as soon as possible, stick to your rehab program, take medications regularly when advised and keep going. There may be ups and downs along the way, but stay focused and positive

You can find the answers to loads more similar questions in the total knee replacement recovery questions section. 

Summary

Knee replacement recovery time varies slightly from person to person but typically follows this pattern:

  • Day 1: you should be able to get out of bed, walk around with assistance and start your exercises.

  • Day 2-5: work on rehab program with physical therapist, practice walking and going up and down stairs (with or without walking aids). May use CPM machine. Use ice, tubigrip and elevation to reduce swelling. Discharged home. 

  • Day 6-10: Continue with daily exercises (2-3 times per day) and take regular walks around the house. Aim for full knee extension and at least 90 degrees of knee flexion. Can wash as long as you keep the dressings dry. Stitches removed.

  • Weeks 2-6: Progress to more challenging exercises (still 2-3 times a day), start walking around outside (may still need walking aids initially). Avoid kneeling, squatting and pivoting. Start driving again - must be able to do an emergency stop. 

  • Weeks 8-12: Progress to walking unaided, both inside and out. Wean off medication. Progress exercises (daily). Aiming for knee range of motion of 0-120 degrees.

  • Months 3-6: Return to your normal activities but continue with exercises (3-5 times per week). Pain and swelling should have mostly gone by now but can take up to 2 years. Should regain full range of motion in the knee.

Hopefully this knee replacement recovery time line should give you a good idea what to expect from your surgery. 

Find Out More

Knee replacement recovery time with vary person to person and may even go up and down. The better you understand what is going on in and around your knee, and the more information you have, the faster your knee replacement recovery time is likely to be.

Make sure you check out these articles to help you make the best possible recovery:

  1. Knee Replacement Guide: Including how to tell if you would benefit from surgery
  2. TKR Surgery: What actually happens during the operation
  3. Rehab Guide: What exercises to do and how to get the best results
  4. Common Problems: Common problems associated with knee replacements
  5. Your Questions Answered: Answers to frequently asked questions e.g.how to tell if you are overdoing things
  6. Knee Replacement Video: Watch an animated guide or real footage (not for the squeemish) from TKR surgery
  7. Partial Knee Replacements: An alternative, less invasive surgery where only one side of the knee is replaced
  8. Knee Replacement Book: Our handy book tells you everything you need to know about knee arthritis and knee replacement surgery.

Page Last Updated: 12/07/21
Next Review Due: 12/07/23


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References

1. Biomed Central Musculoskeletal Disorders: What is the evidence to support early supervised exercise therapy after primary total knee replacement? A systematic review and meta-analysis. January 2019

2. British Medical Journal Open: Cost-effectiveness of enhanced recovery in hip and knee replacement: a systematic review protocol. March 2018

3. Physiotherapy Journal: New approach for the rehabilitation of patients following total knee arthroplasty. May 2015