Knee replacement - Recovery 

Recovering from a knee replacement 

Post-operative knee care

An expert explains how to get your knee back to its best after surgery.

Media last reviewed: 30/04/2013

Next review due: 30/04/2015

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

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.

After surgery

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.

Page last reviewed: 16/06/2014

Next review due: 16/06/2016


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The 9 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

linnielamb said on 13 July 2014

I am a 51 year old female, after years off multiple joint arthritis and two arthroscopies on the same knee I had a total knee replacement 8 weeks ago, the op was more painful than I thought it would be, but with lots of painkillers, ice and some physio I am on the road to recovery, I still get pain, I have tramadol, and ibuprofen only when I need them, and gabapentin helps with all my arthritis pain which I take tree times a day. my advise would be to anyone going through this op is have all the pain killers offered to you, do plenty of physio and keep it up, if you have trouble sleeping after the op, try sleeping sitting up, its less painful, put plenty of pillows behind you, before any exercise take your painkillers, oh and rub deepfreeze on your knee, and good luck.

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Catanna said on 16 June 2014

Hi All,
Thank you for your advise and input. It has really helped me.
I had TKR on 28th May. Very positive hospital experience. Efficient with great after care. Lots of pain killers given day and night. Huge amount of pain but it is improving after 19 days. I was in for 4 days.
District nurse and physio making home visits.I do three sets of 6 exercises every day. If I get too tired I skip a set, which physio agrees is the right thing to do.
My flexability when exercising is good but I am very stiff when walking so have been given 2 more exercises to do to try to make the knee more flexable.
I used a zimmer from days 1 to 8 then changed to two sticks for 8days. Now on one stick only.
The tiredness and pain almost had me a little down but I realised I was getting annoyed with myself as I often did not know how much sleep, exercise, pain relief and walking to do.
If I overdid it I slept a lot the next day. I realised that you can only do your best and stopped trying to push myself. Listen to your body and adjust as required.
This good weather helps as I can walka little around the area every day.
I went out for lunch on Saturday and for a run in a friends car plus coffee on Sunday.
I have had to ask friends and family for help quite often. (I live alone) They have been great but I don't want to ask too much.
Have employed a cleaner for 2 to 3 hours a week.
Due to see the Consultant on 18th July so hope to be walking much better by then.
Please tell me how you are getting on. I am 70 years old by the way. I lost 19 lbs before the op and did exercises in advance. Fairly fit.
I have to get the other knee done sometime too.

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greengager said on 11 June 2014

I had a TKR 4 weeks ago to replace a half knee that was done 4 years ago. I found the pain far worse this time round which I did expect. The new knee is working really well, I knew within 2 weeks that it had worked. I was in hospital for 2 day's and am nearly crutch free. I have already had a TKR on my other knee and a THR. My advice is don't expect too much of yourself, keep taking the pain killer's for as long as you need to, you will know when they are no longer needed. Most off all keep doing the physio. Keep wearing the stockings for the 6 week's as they do help with the swelling on your ankles and feet. It does take a long while for the new joint and the trauma in the knee to settle, I would say a good 18 - 24 month's. Be kind to yourself and don't rush things.

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Steph 78 said on 15 May 2014

I had a TKR 6 weeks ago. The biggest thing I learnt was everyone's recovery time is different. I was in hospital for 7 days others left after 3. Think ahead about home I have RA I'd strongly advise is you have another bad knee push to speak with the occupational therapists before you go in. The initial pain and bruises and added RA inflammation for me were mentally hard to get through but after week 3 I knew it was going to be worth while. Make sure you do your exercises frequently the results do come even though it feels like nothing happens at first. It's tiring and tests your patience but so far it's worth it. I found focussing on little achievements ever day has really helped (still doing this). See my consultant for my 6 week check tomorrow it's still early days but already much better than I was!

Top tips
Do your exercise regularly throughout the day
Be patient with yourself it's a big operation
Remember everyone is different
Use the painkillers offered to get you through
Notice the little bits of progress you make each day be realistic

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Sarah Ludlow said on 03 March 2014

I am just recovering from my second total knee replacement. The first on was Oct 24th 2014 about three and a half months ago. I am comfortable with my first knee and could easily go on a flight/long journey. I do have to say I have experienced horrific pain on the recovery side. The first two weeks I experienced the knee "contracting" and throbbing all the time. I could not sleep and found the first two weeks utterly miserable, However, after those two weeks, the knee steadily improved and is now very good. Regarding pain relief, and I know everybody is different, my GPO prescribed 2 slow releasing tramadol twice a day. I found these were excellent . I used Cocodoamol for break through pain. The slow releasing tablets, as the name suggests, ensure the pain relief is constant and not just a quick fix. It takes an hour to feel the first effects. One thing which is really important is to keep up with the physio. Little and often. I was back at my place of work January 2 without crutches and about 75% movement in my knee. Now its about 90%. Ice is a wonderful pain killer, it takes the edge of the pain and is of course drug free.
So to summarise: I found the total knee replacements to be horrific for the first two weeks, I kept up with the physio, used ice, used slow releasing Tramadol and can confirm the first knee is successful. Just waiting to come out of the painful period of my second knee! It is worth doing - but be prepared for considerable pain.

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Chris509 said on 10 February 2014

Had a TKR 6 days ago and back home. Apart from when I'm doing my exercises I have been advised to rest in bed and avoid walking even with the crutches. Have to say it can be quite painfully walking with the crutches but Have I got this right or misunderstood the instructions.

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Lion Marianne said on 29 January 2014

How soon after a full knee replacement can I fly longhaul

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juneway said on 19 August 2013

Not very accurate on Hospital stay I was out in 2 days after my 2nd TKR Also its much too optimistic about the lenght of time it takes for the pain go . Yes it does get better every week. but you should be more realistic about the length of time it takes. For many people it can take take quite bit longer.

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User416495 said on 14 January 2013

After knee replacement how long will it be,before I can go on a log distance coach trip.
Thanks dave

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