Knee ligament surgery - Recovery 

Recovering from knee surgery 

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

Recovering from anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee surgery can take up to a year.

After knee surgery, the wound will be closed with stitches. If the stitches are dissolvable, they should disappear after about three weeks.

If your stitches aren't dissolvable, they'll need to be removed by a healthcare professional. Your surgeon will advise you about this. They'll also tell you how to care for your wound. Washing it with mild soap and warm water is usually all that's required.

Your knee will be bandaged and you may also be given a cryocuff to wear. This is a waterproof bandage that contains iced water to help reduce swelling. You may also be given painkilling medication to control any pain.

You may have painful bruising, swelling and redness down the front of your shin and ankle. This is caused by the fluid inside your knee joint (synovial fluid) leaking down your shin. These symptoms are temporary and should start to improve after about a week.


Your surgeon or physiotherapist will be able to advise you about a structured rehabilitation programme. It's very important that you follow the programme so that your recovery is as successful as possible.

You'll be given exercises you can start in hospital after your surgery and continue when you get home. The exercises will include movements to bend, straighten and raise your leg. Ask if you're unsure about how to do any of the exercises.

You'll also be given crutches to help you move around. You may need to use them for about two weeks, but you should only put as much weight on your injured leg as you feel comfortable with.

Weeks 1-2 of your recovery

For a few weeks, your knee is likely to be swollen and stiff, and you may need to take painkillers.

Your surgeon or GP will advise about the type of pain relief that's best for you to use. You'll be advised to raise your leg as much as possible – for example, by putting pillows under your heel when you're lying in bed.

You may be given a cryocuff to take home with you to help ease the pain and swelling. Ask your surgeon or physiotherapist how often you should use the cryocuff. If you don't have a cryocuff, you could place a pack of frozen peas wrapped in a towel on your injured knee.

Weeks 2-6 of your recovery

Once the pain and swelling have settled, you may be advised to increase or change your exercises. Your physiotherapist will advise you about what exercises to do. The exercises will help you to:

  • fully extend and bend your knee
  • strengthen your leg muscles
  • improve your balance
  • begin to walk properly

After 2-3 weeks, you should be able to walk without crutches.

As well as specific exercises, activities that don't put much weight on your knee may also be recommended, such as swimming and cycling

Weeks 6-24 of your recovery

Six weeks to six months after your knee operation, you should gradually be able to return to your normal level of activity.

You'll be encouraged to continue with activities such as cycling and swimming, but you should avoid sports that involve a lot of twisting, jumping or turning. This is because you need to allow enough time for the grafted tissue to anchor itself in place inside your knee.

After six months

After six months you may be able to return to playing sport.

Some people may need to take more time to feel confident enough to play sports again, and elite athletes may need longer to return to their previous level of performance.

Returning to work

How quickly you can return to work after having knee surgery will depend on what your job involves.

If you work in an office, you may be able to return to work after 2-3 weeks. If you do any form of manual labour, it could be up to three months before you can return to work, depending on your work activities.


Your GP will be able to advise you about when you can drive again. This will usually be after 3-4 weeks, or whenever you can comfortably put weight on your foot. 

Page last reviewed: 14/10/2013

Next review due: 14/10/2015


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The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

sigill11 said on 20 August 2014

Had ACL reconstruction done on 29.7.2014 so I'm three weeks into the recovery. Was really impressed with the NHS and found this website very useful before and after, however I would say the general guidelines here are obviously just that- everyone has to go at their own pace. I'm athletic male 30 and surgeon has said my knee is recovering excellently but I won't be rushing to get driving or going on long walks etc for the sake of it. I'm lucky to be off work anyway as a teacher but that also has really helped avoid accidents or overdoing it. Do the exercises and ice your knee daily and when you feel it needs it- listening to your body is key (I've tried to do a few more and build the number up gradually but I've also had times when I've slowed down, for example my calf muscle was quite tight this morning so I'm going easier on the exercises today). I had a torn meniscus too which was repaired at the same time and has affected my rehab slightly too (I'll be on crutches for six weeks although I could get by without now) so make sure you ask lots of questions in the little time you get with your surgeon. If this is you thinking about it good luck and a speedy recovery!

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sach4all said on 01 May 2014

thank u for ur guide..
i have one problem regarding my acl operation.
8 months completed to my acl operation still my swelling remaiins same and increase if i walk much..please suggest me any suggestions

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Peter E said on 19 March 2014

i am now week three into my recovery from total knee replacement surgery. I can walk without the aid of crutches for short distances around the house without too much difficulty. However problems occur if I stand for prolonged periods which can result in quite a lot of pain and discomfort but only for a short while. A short rest seems to do wonders, so I would agree with advice given; balance exercise with rest for the best results. Each day seems to see slight improvement and it is quite easy to make lifestyle adjustments to aid recovery. I think I will still use the crutches for trips out as I can let my arms take some of the strain when standing. I agree with other comments the exercises do get easier especially when the initial swelling goes down. Good Luck

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redrobbo5 said on 26 April 2013

i had acl reconstruction on 22/04/2013 i was quite concerned about the long term recovery involved, but i have to say i,m delighted with my progress, i stayed in overnight at hospital and when I got home ,i began the exercise programme they give you, it is quite painful at first but it does get easier, i,m walking quite easy without crutches on day 4 ,,, 26/4 and also today have started driving with no discomfort,, i was supplied with strong painkillers by the hospital but have not needed them yet, advice if any is, eat well,, sleep well and do your excersizes,,,
good look !!!!
Alan ,,,,,liverpool

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Mal 39 said on 27 January 2013

I rate these pages as excellent. Their content is clear, concise. and extremely informative. If I have this operation I will opt for local anaesthetic so that I can follow the procedure, and have no qualms about doing so.

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