Knee massage after knee replacement surgery

How To Massage The Knee (and Scar) After TKR Surgery

(I may earn a small commission from the products mentioned in this post.)

Massaging your knee at the proper time after total knee replacement can aid in your recovery.

A general full body massage can help relieve tension, stress and anxiety. It also can increase circulation to the soft tissues that include muscles and tendons.

For your surgically repaired knee, massage can increase the blood supply to the area and promote healing. It can also help reduce swelling, relieve pain and just give you a general soothing feeling when your knee is aching.

Once my doctor gave me the okay to massage the area around my knee and the scar itself, I used my hands and an electronic massaging devise on a regular basis.

My wife was also kind enough to help out with these massages too.

Massage also helped me before many of my physical therapy sessions to loosen up the knee so I could do the required exercises. In this article I will share my experience with massage post TKR.

Why Your Knee Will Be Sore and Uncomfortable After TKR

TKR causes some serious trauma to your knee joint.

Your surgeon will make a large incision directly over the top of your knee. Once the surgeon has you opened up, the bone is either cut or shaved.

Small holes are drilled in your bones. Your muscles and supporting structures probably have atrophied before surgery.

In my case my knee had bowed and the surgeon physically straightened it. During the process, my ligaments and tendons were stretched in ways they hadn’t been in decades.

Often times, surgeons remove your ACL too. My ACL was missing from previous injuries and my surgeon jokingly thanked me for not having to remove it during my TKR.

After surgery you have to deal with the wound (incision), also with the drainage (blood), swelling and the stiffness that results. The physical therapy starts hours after surgery; the hospital physical therapist had me up next to my bed and doing my initial range of motion exercises.

At this point, I was medicated and still had the drainage tube attached to my knee.

How Massage Helps With These Issues After Knee Replacement Surgery

After the home therapist’s first visit, she gave me the okay to begin massaging the area around and behind my knee.

She explained that massage helps to stimulate blood circulation around the muscles, which increases the flow of oxygen and nutrients to them.  She emphasized that massage may also aid in improving range of motion and flexibility.

My first massaging by my caregiver and myself was all by hand. I began massaging away from the incision area which is extremely tender and far from heeling.

My early massages were centered on the back of my knee and above my knee (thigh) where the tourniquet was placed during surgery.  These areas were still tender too and I started with very slight pressure, more of a rub.

Later I began massaging the sides of my knee still not anywhere near the incision. As time went on and the swelling went down, I was able to increase the pressure little by little.

Massaging helped increase the circulation increasing the blood supply to the knee, which is critical for healing. Along with frequent icings, massage also helped reduce the swelling.

I had to wait until my staples were removed and all the scabs had fallen off before I could begin to massage the scar itself. Massaging the scar helps to decrease scar tissue build up and may help to make your scar less noticeable.

How I Massaged My Knee During Physical Therapy

After warming up on the stationary bike, my offsite therapist massaged my knee with Free-Up massage cream for 10 minutes before I did any of the more demanding exercises.

The massage not only felt good but it seemed to loosen up the muscles as well. My therapist encouraged me to massage my knee at home too, especially before I did my exercise routine.

He recommended the product Free-Up (it is advertised as “a lubricant for soft tissue mobilization and massage”) I liked it because it worked well, was not greasy and could be wiped off easily.

Massage at Home:

My first massages were all by hand, either by myself or by my caregiver. Preparation for the massage was relatively simple.

I used a towel and a jar of Free-Up. I sat up on my bed, and put a towel under my knee. I had the Free-Up nearby.

Small amounts of Free-up are all that is needed. A little goes a long way and helps your hands glide along the massage area.

As I mentioned above I started out with minimal pressure but as time went by I increased the pressure. My therapist encouraged me to push away from the wound.

At first, I really worked the area behind my knee and my upper thigh the longest. The towel keeps any Free-Up off your bedding and then it is right there to wipe off any excess cream after you complete your massage.

I would massage my knee for about 10 minutes prior to a workout. Before going to sleep, my caregiver or I would massage my leg for about 20 minutes.

Every now and then I would massage my knee while sitting in my recliner watching television. I feel like I got better results sitting up in bed because I could reach my knee better.

Massaging in bed also allowed me to turn over on my stomach if the caregiver was giving the massage.

Once the scab fell off my incision I began to massage the scar area 3 times a day with either Free-Up or Carmex hydrating lotion. I often put the Carmex lotion on the incision 8 to 10 times a day to keep it moist.

Transition to an Electronic Massage

I began using a handheld electronic massage tool about a month after surgery. I did not use any massage cream with the tool.

I used it primarily on the sides of my knee, behind my knee, my thigh and my calf. I avoided the wound site and any place like the patella (knee-cap) where the massager would hit a bone.

The electronic tool works well in the meaty areas I massage and I can massage those spots longer without wearing out my fingers (I like this Oregon Scientific massager on Amazon). In order to work close to the incision, I always use my hands. Sometimes I start with the electronic tool further away from the incision, then finish with my hands.

Transition to a Professional Massage

Before TKR, I would get a full body massage twice a month. I did not have a full body massage until 6 months after my surgery.

I could have gone earlier but I wasn’t too keen on someone else working on my knee yet and I preferred to massage myself or let my caregiver massage the knee.

When I did get my first professional massage post-surgery (with a masseuse that I had never had), I did not tell her about my TKR and she worked both legs and knees the same and it felt great.

I have since gone back to my twice a month massage routine.

Tips To Remember:

  • Find a comfortable place to massage your knee.
  • Avoid the wound area initially.
  • Start off with gentle massage and increase the pressure as time goes by.
  • Use a cream to facilitate the massage.
  • Keep a towel handy for easy cleanup.
  • Use your hands around the incision area and on the scar.
  • When using an electronic massager, focus on the meaty areas and avoid the incision area and any bony areas.
  • Hand massage and electric massage work surprisingly well on the back of the knee in the initial days.


Massage was and still is an important part of my recovery process from TKR.  I hope the information and the tips I have provided will help you in your TKR recovery as well.