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Knee Replacement Recovery

Knee replacement recovery

Are you about to undergo a knee replacement?

Want to know what’s best for knee replacement recovery?

What are the best exercises for recovery after knee replacement?

Knee replacement surgery is a common procedure in the UK, with over 100,000 people undergoing the surgery each year.

What is a knee replacement?

There are two main types of knee replacement surgery – partial knee replacement (sometimes called unicondylar, or hemi-knee replacement) and total knee replacement.

Knee replacement is carried out to treat advanced knee osteoarthritis, and the aim of the surgery is to remove the damaged joint surfaces on the ends of the femur and tibia bones, and then replacement them with man-made components.

When arthritis affects just one zone (aka compartment) of the knee (usually the ‘medial’ or inside side of the knee), it may be possible to replace just one compartment, with a partial knee replacement. If the knee is globally very worn, or bent out of shape because of the advanced arthritis, then a total knee replacement may be recommended.

How soon will I be up and about after knee replacement surgery?

A few hours after the surgery, a physiotherapist will help you to get up and take your first few steps on your new knee. You’ll be helped to carry out some basic range of movement exercises (such as knee flexion and ankle pumps) and some early strengthening exercises, such as quads and glutes isometric contractions.

Most people stay in hospital for 2-3 days, and by the time you leave, you’ll be walking with support (e.g., crutches or a frame), and will be able to climb up and down stairs.

How much pain will I have after knee replacement surgery?

During the healing process, it’s normal to experience some pain or discomfort. The good news is much can be done to keep you comfortable.

Most patients would probably agree that the first two days are the hardest, and then over the next 6 weeks, the pain and swelling gradually begins to settle.

Your new knee will take a good six months to really ‘bed in’, and it’s natural to have aches and pains during this time. Medications, icing your knee regularly, and of course, physiotherapy, will really help your recovery during this time.

Knee replacement recovery time

Total knee replacement recovery

Most of our patients who’ve undergone a total knee replacement will say that their knee starts to feel like it’s their knee, and really good, by the end of the first year. That doesn’t mean that you have to wait a whole year to become active!

It means that the body has to accept the new implant, and your soft tissues and muscles take time to adapt. Sometimes it can take up to two years for a total knee replacement to feel natural.

Partial knee replacement recovery

As you might expect, it’s quicker to recover after a partial (compared with a total) knee replacement, and it’s around half the time (i.e., six months).

knee replacement surgery patient walking with a frame

When can I return to work after a knee replacement?

If you have a desk-based job, it may be possible to return after six weeks or so, but it’s always best to be guided by your pain and your mobility levels. Returning to work too early may mean you’ll struggle or experience more pain. If you have very manual job, or one that requires you to be on your feet all day, you might need to consider allowing three months before you return to work. These timings are likely to be a little less after a partial knee replacement.

When can I drive after a knee replacement?

This will vary from person to person, but a recent study has shown that on average, it takes around 6-8 weeks before you’re back driving.

What sports can I do after a knee replacement?

For many patients, the main goal is to get out of pain and get back to doing activities (or work) that they love. Most orthopaedic surgeons would recommend that low impact activities such as golf, hiking, cycling, swimming and gentle tennis is entirely possible after knee replacement surgery, and some patients even manage skiing.

Although there isn’t compelling data to definitely show that running is a no-no, knee replacements aren’t engineered with the runner in mind, and the experience of running on a knee replacement would likely be uncomfortable. It seems logical that high impact activity, such as running, might contribute to wearing out your replacement sooner.

What’s the fastest way to recover after a knee replacement?

It’s important not to try to rush your recovery, and work with your physio’s guidance. Trying to push too hard will lead to increased swelling and pain and will overly stress the recovering muscles.

Early on in your recovery, it’s all about getting the swelling done (by icing and elevating your knee), and carrying out your exercises for a short while, but frequently. That might look like carrying out your knee range of movement exercises every hour, and taking short, regular walks with support.

Don’t try to walk without your frame or crutches until you’re told it’s time to do-so. The goal is to have a calm knee, with little swelling, and muscles that activate well and are strong. It’s not about a race to come off crutches, or to be ‘brave’ and battle on with pain.

Closeup of total knee replacement patient exercising using 'doughnut' on wooden board.

What are the best exercises after a knee replacement?

Everyone’s recovery after knee replacement is a little different, and we tailor your physio rehab exercises to your individual needs and progress. As a guide, we may recommend some of the following exercises to aid your recovery after surgery.

Heel slides – Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor or bed. Slide your operated foot back towards your bottom, then slowly slide it back out again. Repeat 10-15 times. You might find this easier with something to enable your foot to slide (e.g., placing the foot of your sliding leg in a plastic bag), or, using a towel or belt around your ankle to assist with gently pulling your knee into flexion.

Straight leg raises – Lie on your back with your legs straight. Slowly lift your operated leg up to about a 45-degree angle and hold for a few seconds before lowering it back down. Repeat 10-15 times and try to keep your knee as straight as possible.

Lying kicks (aka quads short arcs)

Lie on your back and place a rolled-up towel underneath your knee. Contract your quads muscles to straighten your knee and lift your foot off the bed, and hold for 5 seconds. Lower your foot down and repeat 3 times.

Wall slides – Stand with your back against a wall and slide your operated leg down the wall, bending your knee as far as you can without pain. Hold for a few seconds before straightening your leg back out. Repeat 10-15 times.

Step-ups – Stand in front of a step or stair with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step up onto the step with your operated leg, then step back down. Repeat 10-15 times.

How can I best prepare for a knee replacement?

Getting as strong as possible before your surgery will help to ensure the best outcome, so it’s important to do your pre-hab. The more work you do before, the easier it will be after the surgery. The best pre-hab exercises are the ones you’ll be doing after your surgery, so get familiar with the exercises your physio prescribes for you or use ours as a guide.

If you need help preparing or recovering from your knee replacement surgery, we’re expert London knee physiotherapists in Eltham and Battersea.

For more help setting up your recovery plan, simply get in touch today.