Knee Replacement: Recovery

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Full recovery from a total knee replacement may take anywhere from six months to up to a year. To maximize your chances for a successful surgical outcome, it's important to follow all of your surgeon's post-operative instructions. These will include when to follow-up, what activities to restrict, and how to care for your wound.

Surgery Follow-Up

After knee replacement surgery, you can expect to follow-up with your surgeon within the following time frames:

  • Two weeks after surgery
  • Six weeks after surgery
  • Three months after surgery
  • One year after surgery

During these appointments, your surgeon will evaluate how well you are healing and remove any non-absorbable stitches or sutures that were placed during the operation. An X-ray of your knee will also be taken during these visits.

Besides your surgery appointments, you will also see a physical therapist for up to three months. The purpose of these physical therapy sessions is to strengthen your knee muscles so you can return to walking and your other activities of living.

Recovery Timeline

If you have your surgery in the hospital, you can expect to stay for approximately one to three days. If you have your knee replacement in an outpatient surgical center (which is not typical but becoming more common), you will need to arrange to have someone drive you home after the procedure.

If you are recovering in the hospital, you can expect the following:

  • You will start eating Jell-o and broth, as tolerated, and then slowly advance to a solid diet.
  • You will ice your knee at regular intervals (e.g., every twenty minutes).
  • You will use a breathing device called an incentive spirometer to keep your lungs healthy after surgery.
  • You will wear compression boots and take a blood thinner to prevent blood clots in your legs.

You will also meet with physical and occupational therapists in the hospital. The physical therapist will work with you on mobility, strengthening, and walking. The occupational therapist will work with you on preparing for tasks such as washing, dressing, and other daily activities.

Most patients are able to go home after their brief hospital stay. If a patient, however, is having trouble performing regular activities, such as getting to the bathroom, they will usually go to a short-term rehabilitation facility before going home.

Once home, your surgeon will provide you with specific instructions to follow, such as:

  • Taking your medications as directed, which usually includes pain medication, stool softeners, a blood thinner, and sometimes, an anti-nausea drug.
  • Resuming your normal diet, drinking lots of water, and avoiding alcohol.
  • Performing knee exercises as advised—a physical therapist will probably come to your home for a few visits before you begin outpatient physical therapy.

Activity Restrictions

Certain activities will be restricted after surgery.

The time frame will depend on how well you are healing and progressing with physical therapy.

  • Walking: Your surgeon will probably have you getting out of bed and walking with a walker on the day after surgery. You can expect to walk unassisted (without a walker or cane) within two to three weeks after surgery.
  • Driving: Patients can usually return to driving about four to six weeks after surgery (and sometimes sooner), assuming they are off all opioid pain medication.
  • Working: Patients who work mostly at a desk can return in about four to six weeks. More labor-intensive jobs or jobs that require a lot of walking or travel require a longer wait—up to three months.
  • Physical Activities: Patients can return to sports three to six months after surgery. Low-impact sports, however, such as swimming, walking, golfing, or biking, are considered fine and can be safely restarted. Your surgeon, however, will advise you to avoid high-impact sports that involve running or jumping for the rest of your life.

Coping With Recovery

Recovering from a knee replacement surgery can be a stressful process, both physically and emotionally. Being as prepared as you can will help minimize any stress you may experience.

In the weeks and days leading up to your surgery date, consider these preparatory strategies:

  • Remove any fall hazards within your home, such as throw rugs or electrical cords lying on the floor.
  • Install handrails on your stairways and in your bathroom.
  • Purchase items that will help you during your recovery at home (e.g., shower chair, raised toilet seat, and long-handled grabbing tool, etc.).
  • Arrange for a family member or friend to stay with you for one week after the surgery to assist you with personal care and household chores.

Wound Care

After surgery, you will want to keep your wound site clean and dry. Avoid submerging your knee in water for three to four weeks until the incision is fully healed. You will also have a bandage on your knee. Be sure to talk with your surgeon about how and when to change the bandage properly.

Call your surgeon if you develop any signs of an infection, such as: 

  • Fever or chills
  • New or worsening redness, swelling, warmth, or tenderness around the wound
  • Drainage from the wound site
  • Increased knee pain

A Word From Verywell

The vast majority of patients who undergo a knee replacement are satisfied with the surgery, reporting pain relief and improvements in functioning. That said, if at any time you are concerned or have questions about your recovery process, do not hesitate to reach out to your surgical team. They are there to help ensure your surgery has a successful outcome, and that you feel as comfortable as possible during your healing period.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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