Recovering from a knee replacement
Recovery times can vary depending on the individual and type of surgery carried out. It is important to follow advice the hospital gives you on looking after your knee.
In the surgical ward, you may be given a switch that enables you to self-administer painkillers at a safe rate. You may also be given oxygen through a mask or tubes. If necessary, you will be given a blood transfusion.
You will have a large dressing on your knee to protect your wound. Various drains will syphon off blood from the operation site to prevent it collecting inside the wound.
Your wound dressing will be changed regularly until it has healed over.
Read more information about what happens after an operation.
How soon will I be up and about?
The staff will help you to get up and walk about as quickly as possible. If you have had minimally invasive surgery or are on an enhanced recovery programme, you may be able to walk on the same day as your operation. Generally, you will be helped to stand within 12-24 hours after your operation.
Walking with a frame or crutches is encouraged. Most people are able to walk independently with sticks after about a week but this can vary depending on the individual.
During your stay in hospital, a physiotherapist will teach you exercises to help strengthen your knee. You can usually begin these the day after your operation. It is important to follow the physiotherapist's advice to avoid complications or dislocation of your new joint.
It is normal to experience initial discomfort while walking and exercising, and your legs and feet may be swollen.
You may be put on a passive motion machine to restore movement in your knee and leg. This support will slowly move your knee while you are in bed. It helps to decrease swelling by keeping your leg raised and helps improve your circulation.
When can I go home?
You will usually be in hospital for three to five days, depending on what progress you make and what type of knee replacement you have. Patients who have a half knee replacement usually have a shorter hospital stay.
If you are generally fit and well, the surgeon may suggest an enhanced recovery programme where you start walking on the day of the operation and are discharged within one to three days.
Read more information about getting back to normal after an operation.
How will I feel when I get home?
Do not be surprised if you feel extremely tired at first. You have had a major operation and muscles and tissues surrounding your new knee will take time to heal. Follow the advice of the surgical team and call your GP if you have any particular worries or queries.
You may be eligible for home help and there may be aids that can help you. You may also want to arrange for someone to help you out for a week or so.
The exercises your physiotherapist gives you are an important part of your recovery. It is essential you continue with them once you are at home. Your rehabilitation will be monitored by a physiotherapist.
How long will it be before I feel normal?
You should be able to stop using your crutches or walking frame and resume normal leisure activities six weeks after surgery. However, it may take up to three months for pain and swelling to settle down. It can take up to a year for any leg swelling to disappear.
Your new knee will continue to recover up to two years after your operation. During this time, scar tissue will heal and muscles will be restored by exercise.
Even after you have recovered, it is best to avoid extreme movements or sports where there is a risk of falling, such as skiing or mountain biking. Your doctor or a physiotherapist can advise you.
When can I drive again?
You can resume driving when you can bend your knee enough to get in and out of a car and control the car properly.
This is usually around four to six weeks after your surgery, but check with your physiotherapist or doctor whether it is safe for you to drive.
When can I go back to work?
This depends on your job, but you can usually return to work six to 12 weeks after your operation.
When can I do housework?
For the first three months, you should be able to manage light chores, such as dusting and washing up.
Avoid heavy household tasks such as vacuuming and changing the beds. Do not stand for long periods as this may cause ankle swelling and avoid stretching up or bending down for the first six weeks.
How will it affect my sex life?
You may find that having the operation gives your sex life a boost. Your surgeon can advise when you can have sex again. As long as you are careful, it should be fine after six to eight weeks. Avoid vigorous sex and kneeling positions.
Will I have to go back to the hospital?
You will be given an outpatient appointment to check on your progress, usually six to 12 weeks after your knee replacement.
The surgeon will want to see you again a year later, and every five years after that to X-ray your knee and make sure it is not beginning to loosen.
Will I need another new knee?
The knee can be replaced as often as necessary, although results tend to be slightly less effective each time. Recovery may take longer, but once you have recovered, results are usually good.
Looking after your new knee
- Continue to take any prescribed painkillers or anti-inflammatories to help manage any pain and swelling
- Use your walking aids but aim to gradually decrease the amount you rely on them as your leg feels stronger
- Keep up your exercises to help prevent stiffness and do not force your knee
- Do not sit with your legs crossed for six weeks after your operation
- Do not put a pillow underneath your knee when sleeping as this can result in a permanently bent knee
- Avoid twisting at your knee
- Wear supportive outdoor shoes
- Do not kneel on your operated knee until your surgeon says you can
- Raise your leg when sitting and use ice packs to help with any swelling
Page last reviewed: 16/06/2014
Next review due: 16/06/2016