A knee replacement recovery timeline is difficult to predict. Everyone’s recovery will be different.
According to my doctor, my recovery was pretty much what he expected and nothing remarkable. I will be sharing the timeline of my own recovery over a period of the first year after surgery and I hope it will help those of you who are soon to have TKR plan your own recovery.
A general timeline for recovery is approximately 1 year. However, choosing your surgeon carefully, assessing your personal health and fitness pre-surgery and selecting a good physical therapist post-surgery will be important factors that influence the success and timeline of your recovery.
Your willingness to work hard and persevere during therapy will also have a big impact on your recovery.
Believe me, I was worried/concerned about my own recovery. I asked several friends and acquaintances to share their personal experiences about their recovery.
Most of the people had positive experiences. Some of those who struggled with recovery had weight issues while others did not take the physical therapy rehab as serious as they should have.
Almost all who had positive outcomes stressed the importance of giving physical therapy my best effort and sincere attention. Friends also made sure that I understood it was a process and that I should continue working on my knee well after the formal physical therapy was over.
I had travel plans 4 months out and was concerned about whether I could fly and enjoy a cruise. Some of you will be more concerned with when you can go back to work or when you can resume activities that you enjoy.
You might be curious how long you will need assistance or a caregiver.
I hope to give you some answers to those questions in this timeline article based on my own experience. If you experience complications during rehab, you may not have the same type of recovery experience that I had.
Weeks 1-2 TKR
Expect pain and difficulty sleeping.
The first two weeks were by far the toughest for me. Not only do you come home with pain from the surgery, but expect to have more pain when the formal physical therapy starts.
You may not like the idea of taking prescription medicine for pain, but if you use it wisely and slowly wean yourself off of the prescription it will help ease your recovery.
In order for the physical therapy to be successful, it will cause some pain.
Remember the old saying, “no pain, no gain”? I found that to be very true.
No matter how great of shape you are in pre-surgery, you are going to need some help. A caregiver was a godsend for me.
It is tough to rely on others but this is a time when you need to make arrangements so that you have some help and assistance the first few weeks.
You should be able to begin taking showers after the wound has scabbed over. For me it was day 13.
Weeks 3-4 TKR Recovery
Perseverance is the key to a successful recovery during weeks 3 and 4. Sometimes you feel like you are torturing yourself with the physical therapy exercises, especially when nobody is looking over your shoulder.
Thankfully you should see big gains in flexion, extension and overall strength during this period. Another old saying is true, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”.
You will have to do exercises on your own without encouragement. You will be walking with a limp and, like me, you may need to learn to walk correctly. I had walked decades with a subtle limp.
At three weeks I started my off-site therapy.
You should be able to increase the length of your walks to about a mile or more.
With the okay from your surgeon you should be able to get in the pool and start swimming or water exercise.
A caregiver is still a big help during this time as it allows you to concentrate solely on your recovery. You won’t have to prepare meals, wash clothing, and keep up the house.
Recovery Timeline Months 2-4
The more mobile you become, the faster time goes by. No more spending hours sitting in the recliner.
You are up and about and you are able to do many things that you did pre TKR surgery.
- Driving short distances should be okay. My surgery was on my right knee. Those of you that have left knee TKR, may be able to drive earlier.
- Gardening and doing household chores.
- Social activities like church and movies. At movie theaters, I sat in the handicapped seating so that I could extend my knee frequently.
- Longer car trips were tolerable (300 miles).
- I even went on a cruise but only took easy excursions away from the ship.
- At 4 months, leisure sports like golf and pickleball were options for me.
At this point, physical therapy is still a big part of your life. At least, you are doing it on your own.
Even if you feel good, I’d recommend icing and elevation. Even if you don’t notice much pain or swelling, know that your knee is still healing.
At 4 months after knee replacement, I was able to do everything that I could do pre-surgery but with far less pain.
I still knew that there was a lot of room for improvement and knew my leg would continue to get stronger if I stayed diligent and continued to exercise on my own for several more months.
Months 4-8 – Knee Replacement Timeline
At about this time you realize that the real hard recovery work is over. You will transition from formal physical therapy to regular exercise on your own.
There will still be some soreness and stiffness early on but by the end of month 8 much of the stiffness and soreness was gone (for me). As time goes on the knee will be noticeably stronger and more stable.
Monitor your walking to see if you have a limp or need to improve your posture. Family members are a good asset to receive feedback from.
Range-of-motion improvement will be minimal during this period but keep working at it and keep the joint loose and flexible.
Massage and time in the hot tub during this period made my knee feel much better so I bet it would help others too. In the hot tub, you can easily bend and stretch your knee as well as relax.
At the end of four months, you may have resumed all of your favorite activities prior to TKR. From month to month you will increase the distance you hike, bike, swim and walk.
Before surgery, I hated walking on concrete because of the bone on bone pain I experienced. By month 8 it will make little difference if you walk on concrete, dirt trails or sand.
During months 4-8 you may observe that swelling in your knee is decreasing. The surgical knee will finally begin to resemble your healthy knee in appearance.
I have not had two similar looking knees for over 40 years until my TKR recovery.
Months 8-12 – Timeline
During months 8-12 improvement will still occur but at a much slower pace. Best of all, you will feel like you have a strong and stable knee.
Hopefully, by this time you’ll feel good about your decision to have TKR. If surgery and the initial recovery went as planned, you will be amazed at your progress.
Prior to TKR I had accepted the pain in my knee and I thought I would have to live with some degree of pain for the rest of my life. Like me, I hope that by this time you will have a normally functioning knee for the first time in many years.
Hopefully, you will be able to say that you are pain-free when doing everyday activities, especially when walking.
One Year TKR Timeline – Back To Normal?
Normal, for me, has been a painful knee for over 40 years.
It is hard to say that I’m “back to normal”. One year post-surgery I am happy that I made the decision to have TKR after putting it off for several years.
I am extremely happy that I have a pain free knee that allows me to do everyday tasks as well as to engage in the activities that I enjoy.
What a difference a year makes.
If you do not have any complications or major setbacks you should be in the same position that I was a year post TKR. At this point, the exercise and maintenance on the knee might become routine.
If you feel like it helps, there’s no reason to stop strengthening and stretching your legs and joints. Flexibility is key to joint health.
Be positive. Don’t stop rehabbing your knee once your formal physical therapy is over.
Look for big gains and improvement early in your recovery and then accept small improvement as time goes by. Hard work and perseverance definitely pays off.
Remember to consult your physical therapist or doctor if you are feeling any unusual discomfort, pain or swelling. Not everyone heals the same.
After my research and after talking to others that had TKR, my recovery seems to be the norm, nothing out of the ordinary. Hopefully you have a similar experience.
Best wishes for a speedy one-year anniversary. Thanks for reading my blog.