Total Knee Replacement Recovery Process

When you have the knee replacement, the surgery is done and now the recovery begins. This is a crucial time to restore the mobility and strength in order to get to enjoying life. We have laid out the process after the surgery and some expectations (and milestones) to help guide you through the process.

The Beginning:

The process starts after a few hours after the surgery. Yes… a few hours. It’s super important to get the knee moving after surgery to help with circulation and function. A physical therapist will help in getting you moving from the bed and make sure you can get in and out of bed safely and start putting weight on the new knee. They will give you all the assistance you need to be safe as this will be the first-time putting weight on the leg. You will be given a set of exercises to help with not only getting the knee moving but start engaging the knee muscles but also exercises to help with preventing blood clots (which is very important to know, and you will be educated on this before the surgery and after). The nurses will assist in changing out any bandages when needed.

Your physical therapist will be able to answer any questions you may have. And we encourage you to ask any questions you may have to help better understand the initial recovery symptoms and for reassurance.

Your stay will be dependent on a few different factors. It can be a very short stint such as less than 1 day and can be upwards to a few days. The most important factors are the healing of the knee and the ability to walk safely. Therefore, it will be crucial to get moving even if it seems very difficult and you don’t feel like it. Use it as motivation to get back to your home.

Discharge:

Here are milestones to reach prior to leaving the hospital:

  • Bend your knee to a minimum of 90 degrees
  • Dress and bathe on your own
  • Maneuver safely with your assistive device
  • Get in and out of bed by yourself
  • Be able to do steps safely by yourself (even if it’s 1 step at a time)
  • Have the next phase of physical therapy lined up for coming to your house or go to a clinic
  • Lastly have your home exercises that you should absolutely do until you see another physical therapist.

Week 4 to 8…

Now you are getting into the real rehab of the program. This is an important time to restore full ROM and strength. By now you will be in a clinic (out-patient physical therapy) a few times a week to promote more bending of the knee and strength. Even though you will be seen a few times a week, you will need to continue doing your exercises daily (sometimes 2 times/day) to get the most out of the recovery.

By the sixth week after surgery, you should be able to:

  • Continue your exercise and rehab getting more mobility and strength
  • Notice a decrease in inflammation and swelling (there will still be some)
  • Move around with an assistive device for safety but you might not even need …but it depends on you.
  • Walk with only minimal issues and improve stairs where you can start doing them normally 1 after the other instead of 1 step at a time.

Week 9 to 12…

Here you will notice being able to do a lot of the normal things around the house such as cooking, cleaning, doing stairs easily, squatting down, and feeling minimal pain. You will be getting close to normal with mobility and strength helping you get back to your normal lifestyle. But this is important to maximize your potential. It may seem like you are in the clear and you will be able to stop your exercises and treatments.

But let me ask you… “After all this hard work, pain, and determination, are you ready to settle for it’s good enough? Are you happy to be 50-80% of normal? Or do you want to be better than that?

Your healthcare team will tell you it will take 6 months to a year for recover. Therefore, you have 3-9 more months to reach your maximal potential. You’ve come this far… keep up the hard work.

Here are a few exercises that are functional and will help to maximize your potential:

  • Toe and heel raises (alternating standing on your tip-toes, and then back onto your heels)
  • Squats
  • Step-ups/stairs
  • Straight leg raises on your back and side
  • Walking outside
  • Bicycling with a stationary bike

You are so close to reaching your maximum potential. Keep up the great work. Resume your normal activities and if you have any issues please let your physical therapist know so they can be specific on your exercises and help you overcome and difficulties standing in the way of you being 100% normal.

After about a year, you should be back to 100 percent. It’s important to keep in touch with your therapist and have periodical check-ups to make sure everything is still running smoothly. If you find that you’re having unexpected trouble with your knee at any point, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor. If you have any other questions regarding the recovery process of a knee replacement, feel free to check out to reach out to us.