Although total knee replacement recovery takes up to 12 weeks, some people may notice significant progress as early as 4 weeks. In the initial stages, the focus is on rest, wound care, and nutrition.

Some people may be able to start resuming regular household activities around 3–6 weeks after total knee replacement surgery. Knee exercises are important during the entire recovery process.

This article discusses what to expect during recovery after total knee replacement surgery.

A surgeon wrapping a bandage around a person's knee after surgeryShare on Pinterest
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While recovery timelines vary from person to person, the following provides a general idea of what an individual may expect after total knee replacement surgery.

Day 1

This surgery is sometimes an outpatient procedure, which means it does not always require an overnight hospital stay. A person who undergoes total knee replacement surgery can expect to wait in a recovery room after the procedure. Nurses will monitor them until the anesthesia wears off. Sometimes, the surgeon may recommend a 1–3 night hospital stay.

Pain is a common part of the healing process. It is important only to take pain medications as directed by a healthcare professional. The following may provide relief:

Most people can safely begin gentle exercises within hours after the surgery. This helps prevent blood clots and aids with restoring movement.

Operating a vehicle in the weeks after a total knee replacement surgery is unsafe. Therefore, it is important that an individual has a ride home in place before surgery.

Week 1

The week immediately following the procedure requires significant rest. However, it is best for people to continue performing knee exercises recommended by a physical therapist at this stage.

Getting up to walk once every 5–60 minutes helps prevent blood clots. Breathing exercises can also prevent surgical complications such as pneumonia. Keeping the knee elevated will ease postoperative swelling.

Experiencing a decreased appetite is typical. However, eating a healthy and balanced diet rich in iron and protein is important to provide the body with the nutrients it requires to heal.

Assistive walking devices can help with daily activities, as can handrails in places such as the shower or near the toilet.

Week 3

At week 3, some people may experience progress in healing. They may require a lower dose of medication to manage pain. However, it is also important to watch for any signs of complications at this stage, such as a blood clot or infection.

People should contact their care team if they notice a sudden increase in pain, decreased mobility, or redness and swelling around the surgery site.

Showering may be safe at this stage. However, doctors generally do not recommend soaking the knee until the wound has fully healed. This can take 8–12 weeks.

Weeks 4–6

Around this time, doctors typically suggest a postoperative checkup. The surgeon will check what stage the person is at in the healing process and make any necessary adjustments to their care plan.

At this point, people generally require less assistance with daily household and personal care activities, such as cleaning, showering, and cooking.

Typically, people receive clearance to drive again and start to regain their mobility to walk without an assistive device after 6 weeks. However, some may get clearance to drive sooner. Surgeons and physical therapists typically assess each patient individually and base the decision on factors such as pain levels and the use of opioid pain medications.

Weeks 7–11

The knee joint typically feels less stiff and painful. Swelling generally subsides along with pain. At this stage, the recommended physical therapy exercises may become more advanced.

However, it is important not to jump back into daily life activities too quickly, and doctors may still recommend avoiding things such as air travel. This is because changes in air pressure and sitting for long periods can lead to a blood clot.

Week 12

By 12 weeks after surgery, people can typically return to work and resume their usual daily activities. If the procedure and recovery have gone as planned, there is generally an increased range of motion and less pain.

Certain exercises, such as physical therapy exercises, walking, riding a stationary bike, and swimming, are typically beneficial and safe at this stage. However, some doctors may recommend avoiding strenuous activities such as running for 6 months or indefinitely. It is important for an individual to speak with their doctor before returning to these activities.

Physical therapists design personalized treatment plans for recovery from total knee replacement. These plans typically progress in intensity throughout recovery.

Early physical therapy exercises include short periods of walking with an assistive device and stretches the person can do from bed, such as leg raises or ankle pumps.

Advanced activities, such as stair climbing and descending, standing knee bends, and exercising on a stationary bike, generally become safe later.

Following a doctor’s care plan is crucial for recovery after knee replacement surgery. The following activities can hinder healing:

  • driving before receiving clearance
  • smoking
  • not following physical therapy exercises
  • staying in bed without getting up at least once per hour
  • harsh knee movements, such as twisting or bending suddenly

Fall prevention is also an important part of the healing process. Refusing assistance with certain activities or not using an assistive device can lead a person to experience a fall, which can hinder recovery.

Additionally, it is important for an individual to be aware of their mental health. A 2020 study examined psychological risks with total knee replacement surgery. The researchers concluded that factors such as depression, anxiety, and “negative” thoughts and beliefs surrounding pain could impact recovery.

Knee replacements can last more than 20 years if a person takes steps to limit strains on the artificial joint, such as maintaining a moderate weight.

It is important to stay active while avoiding high impact activities such as running, squatting exercises, or jump roping without speaking with a doctor first.

Recovering from total knee replacement surgery can take up to 12 weeks. However, people may notice some progress as early as 4 weeks after the procedure.

The initial focus is on rest, wound care, and nutrition while gradually incorporating knee exercises. Pain management and gentle exercises begin soon after surgery to prevent complications and promote movement. People will need to avoid driving during this period and may require assistance with daily activities during the first week.

Doctors generally recommend a postoperative checkup around weeks 4–6. Swelling and stiffness typically reduce by weeks 7–11, allowing most people to resume work and daily activities by week 12.

Physical therapy plays a vital role in recovery. Mental health factors can also affect it. In the long term, doctors may recommend maintaining a moderate weight and avoiding high impact activities after surgery.