What is Knee Replacement Surgery?

If you suffer from knee pain caused by osteoarthritis, you may be a candidate for knee replacement surgery. Surgical techniques and prostheses options will vary based on your age, weigh, knee shape and size, activity level, and general health.

Typically, the surgery will involve using metal and plastic pieces to recap the bones which form the knee and the kneecap. The procedure will resurface damaged parts of the knee and hopefully relieve otherwise uncontrollable knee pain.

Total knee replacement is considered major surgery and patients often want an idea of what the recovery timeline will look like post-op.

How Long Does Recovery Take?

Recovery times vary on many factors. These include age, weight, knee strength, commitment to physical therapy, and more. Before surgery your doctor will be able to give you an idea of what your specific post-op recovery may look like.

In general, most patients can begin to return to normal daily activities around six weeks. After that, with the guidance of medical professionals, physical activities can be slowly resumed, starting with low impact activities such as stationary cycling and swimming. 

The American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons states that it will likely take 3 months to return to “most activities” and 6 to 12 months for the replacement knee to be as resilient as possible.

Recovery Timeline

Rehabilitation and strength building are major keys to a quick, full recovery after total knee replacement surgery. Because of this, rehabilitation will begin immediately after surgery. A physical therapist will assist the patient in standing up and getting comfortable on a walker, crutches, or a cane. The physical therapist will also teach the patient how to safely get in and out of bed, use the toilet, etc. Within days the patient will also be working on mobility and achieving full extension with the help of the PT.

Assuming the patient received inpatient treatment for the knee replacement, they will likely stay in the hospital for 1 to 3 days post-op. By the time the patient is discharged they should be able to stand with little help, walk around (what would be a normal amount of walking around the house), bathe, use the toilet, dress, and walk up and down a flight of stairs with assistance.

Total knee replacement surgery patients will be sent home with a physical therapy plan. Following all recommended exercises and stretches is paramount for the successful recovery after knee replacement. Pain management will also be prescribed by doctors. Certain pain medications can increase the chance of bleeding, so it is important to only take doctor recommended medications post surgery.

Four to Six Weeks

Driving, household tasks, travel, and work (depending on the type) can often be resumed by six weeks, and sometimes as early as four.

Six to Twelve Weeks

After six weeks you will most likely receive modified exercises from your PT that ensure the knee is ready to progress to more activity. Longer walks, swimming, and biking are often able to be done during this time.

Twelve Weeks to One Year

By 12 weeks, if rehab has been strictly adhered to, most patients can resume activities such as golfing and dancing. Patients’ healthcare teams should always be the guiding voice when new activities are resumes post-op. Pain and mobility will continue to improve, and within 6 months to a year the replacement knee will be as strong as can be.