Written By: Chloe Wilson, BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed by: KPE Medical Review Board
Total knee replacement recovery varies from person to person but is generally very positive.
Most people are up and about within a day or two and are home after 3-5 days. Full recovery after a knee replacement can take up to a year but most of this recovery is seen in the first three months.
People often have lots of questions about total knee replacement recovery, and if possible, it helps to have those questions answered before you go in for surgery so that you know what to expect.
Here you will find answers to the 20 most frequently ask questions about total knee replacement recovery.
A total knee replacement (TKR) is a surgical procedure to treat knee arthritis that has caused severe wear and tear to the knee joint, resulting in pain and stiffness.
Knee replacement surgery involves removing the damaged and worn arthritic parts of the knee joint, the tibia, femur and sometimes the patella too.
These are replaced with a new prosthetic joint. Metal components are fixed to the thigh and shin bones and a plastic spacer sits in between. In some cases the patella is also removed completely and replaced with a plastic disc. Find out more about what happens during surgery >
The first stage of total knee replacement recovery is to get you moving again. Your physical therapist will help you to get up on the day of your operation, or the following day. You may need to use crutches or a frame initially when walking but that should only be for a few days. In most cases, you can put as much weight through your knee as feels comfortable after a TKR.
It may feel strange being up on your feet initially, but it usually doesn't take long to get going and most people only need to use walking aids for a few days.
People are usually discharged home 2-5 days after a total knee replacement. Prior to discharge your physical therapist will ensure you can walk independently, get in and out of a car and go up and down steps/stairs.
Ideally, you should also have good range of movement in your knee before going home and your physical therapist will give you exercises to do to help with your total knee replacement recovery.
Stairs can feel quite daunting after a knee replacements but there are some simple tips to follow to make it easier. The best way to get up and down stairs after a knee replacement is to take it one step at a time. The easiest way to do it is this:
When going up stairs, lead with your good leg stepping it up one step, then bring your operated leg up onto the same step and finally bring your crutches or sticks up to the same step. The simple mantra is "Good leg, bad leg, crutch".
When coming down stairs, place your stick/crutch down onto the first step, then step down with your operated leg, and finally bring your good leg down, all on to the same step. The mantra here is "Crutch, bad leg, good leg".
An easy way to remember it is "Good leg to heaven, bad leg to hell". On the way up, lead with your good leg, on the way down, lead with your operated leg. The crutch always stays with the operated leg.
If you have handrails, you can obviously use those. It may help to have a spare set of crutches so you can have one pair upstairs and one pair downstairs.
Check out our article with loads of top tips on How To Beat Knee Pain On Stairs.
You can usually return to work 6-8 weeks after your total knee surgery, depending on what the job entails and how you are progressing through the total knee replacement recovery process. If you have a manual job it might take slightly longer.
Yes, it is
normal to experience some pain after knee surgery for a few weeks as the
skin, muscles and bone have been cut and take time to heal. This
normally settles down within a few weeks.
Your doctor will prescribe pain-relieving medication which should be taken regularly so you can stay on top of the pain - don't try and battle through without it as you will only slow down the total knee replacement recovery process. You can find out more in the TKR problems section.
In the early stages of total knee replacement recovery you should stick to activities that don’t put too much force through the knee. Activities such as walking, swimming and gently cycling are all fine.
Start off slowly and gradually increase how much you do being guided by your knee. Gentle exercise is an important part of total knee replacement recovery as using the leg and strengthening the muscles helps the recovery process.
Higher impact activities such as running and sports should be avoided for the first 2-3 months. Don't be tempted to rush your total knee replacement recovery.
For the first three months of total knee replacement recovery you should avoid anything that places lots of stress on the knee. This includes tennis, badminton, contact sports (such as football, rugby, baseball), squash or racquetball, jumping, squats, skiing, or jogging.
Also try and avoid any heavy lifting (more than 40 lb) or weight lifting as this could slow your total knee replacement recovery.
Yes you can play golf a few weeks after having a knee replacement, but do not wear spiked shoes as they can cause the knee to twist too much.
You might want to start by only doing half a round and gradually increasing the number of holes so you don't overdo things - often people don't notice any discomfort until the next day so pace yourself, gradually increasing the number of holes.
It is advisable to wait 4-6 weeks after your total knee surgery.
For the first three months following a TKR, stick to light chores such as washing up and dusting. Try to avoid standing for long periods e.g. ironing as it can cause your knee and ankles to swell.
After three months you can return to other housework such as hoovering. You may find kneeling uncomfortable, in which case get knee pads can really help.
Exercises are a key part of the total knee replacement recovery process for a number of months if you want to get the best out of your new knee.
You should keep doing your knee replacement exercises daily until you have regained full range of movement of your knee, meaning you can fully straighten it and bend it at least 120°, and good strength in the muscles.
Even when you have achieved this, it is worth continuing with your exercises 2-3 times weekly to keep your new knee in its best condition.
Regularly doing your exercises is the best way to ensure you make a good total knee replacement recovery. Visit the knee replacement exercise section for more information.
In the early stages of total knee replacement recovery, a bit of discomfort when doing something doesn’t mean you need to stop, however the discomfort should settle within thirty minutes. If pain continues for more than two hours after stopping an activity, that is a sign you overdid it. Next time reduce the intensity or time you do the activity for.
If an activity causes immediate severe pain, stop. Overdoing things is likely to slow down your total knee replacement recovery so listen to your body.
Many people find they actually have less pain after knee replacement surgery as the pain from their arthritis is no longer there.
After 6-12 weeks most of the post-op pain should have settled but their can be some residual pain and swelling for up to a year. You will continue to make progress up to two years after your operation so stick with it. Find out more about common knee replacement problems.
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85% of knee replacements last at least twenty years.
Yes, you will usually have a follow up out-patient appointment with your surgeon around 6-12 weeks after total knee surgery. Most doctors will want to see you again after one year and then every five years where they will x-ray the knee to ensure there are no problems.
If however you are having problems with your total knee replacement recovery, your doctor and physical therapist will see you more often. Don't be afraid to ask for an appointment if you are at all worried about anything.
Whilst this is unlikely, if you develop problems in the prosthesis, you would undergo a revision knee replacement, which means they repeat the surgical procedure.
Revision total knee replacement recovery usually takes longer than after the first operation but people do generally make a good recovery.
One of the best ways to ensure you make excellent total knee replacement recovery is to start your exercises before surgery so you are in the best shape possible.
After surgery, take regular analgesia to stay on top of your pain, follow your exercise program religiously and pace yourself. Try and reduce any knee swelling as quickly as possible and don't be scared to use your new knee.
Always follow the advice of your doctor/physical therapist and talk to them if you have any concerns. Don't be afraid to push yourself, but listen to your body.
Knee replacements do not normally set metal detectors off, but if they do, security may want to see your scar as proof of your operation.
A total knee replacement is also known as a TKR, total knee arthroplasty, TKA, total knee joint replacement or total knee surgery. They all refer to the same operation.
If you want to know more about what happens during surgery and total knee replacement recovery, visit the sections below:
Page Last Updated: 11/10/21
Next Review Due: 11/10/23
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