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A knee replacement recovery timeline is difficult to predict. Everyone’s time frame for 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 their 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 after my TKR surgery and I 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.
Knee Replacement Time Frame – Early On
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 during 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. when nobody is looking over your shoulder, encouraging you it would be easy to quit or take short cuts.
Thankfully you should see big gains in flexion, extension and overall strength during this early 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 relearn to walk correctly. I had walked for 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 do 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 (with frequent stops for stretching) (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. By now, 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.
Long Term Time Frame
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 had 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 – Am I 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.
16 thoughts on “Knee Replacement Recovery Timeline – My Time Frame”
Thank you for this. I am 56 years old. Female. Active with daily intense flow yoga, cycling and walking for 30 minutes tops. I have had chronic pain for 3 years and am having TKR in September. I am terrified that I will not be able to do my yoga after the surgery.
What did you use for pain meds? Any nutrition tips?
Any tips for sleeping?
I bet you’ll recover quickly if you are active. I think yoga is a great way to gain strength and flexibility, although you might have to wait a couple months before getting back to it.
Here is my article on sleeping: https://mykneereplacementrecovery.com/recovery/how-to-sleep-after-knee-replacement-steps-to-follow/
And another on pain medication: https://mykneereplacementrecovery.com/tkr-surgery/pain-after-knee-replacement-1-week/
Today is May 5, 2020. In two days it will be 4 months since my TKR. I’m 60 yrs old and my knee seemed to be doing pretty good. But the past few days I’ve been doing a little more walking and going up steps a lot because I’m visiting my family in NC. My new knee is having fluid around it and is pretty much swollen. I guess I’m using too much at this time. Icing and elevating and taking IBUPROFEN. Called my dr and waiting on callback. You think I’m doing the right things to get the swelling down?
Hi Amy, I had both knees replaced on December 28 2018 & just got home from yoga! I am 55 & was pretty active prior to surgery. Sadly I tried to start back on my activities a bit too quickly and at 6 weeks PO I ended up hurting my hamstring in my left leg!! That slowed me down for a while! I did yoga everyday at home with my physio exercises faithfully for 6 months. Kneeling was weird at first but I kept trying it for short periods and now I dont even think about it (still pad knees though with a folded blanket!) My left hip is stiff and it prevents me from sitting cross legged for long periods of time. Doctor says it will come (it just feels uncomfortable when I move left knee out but think it is from tight hips!)
Anyway, best of luck to you! I think you’ll be back doing yoga in no time!
Thank you both, Ken and Diane. I am now 16 weeks post op. It has been rough. I ended up going back in for manipulations at week 7. I am now using a stationary cycle, doing chair yoga and walking with “Fit Poles” for about 20 minutes at a time (slow walking). My knee buckles a bit because I lost so much muscle in my quad and hamstring. I still do my physio and ice 3 times a day and elevate whenever I am sitting. I know the New Year will bring more success. Ken, I will be in the hot tub in the desert for sure! Good tip for my upcoming holiday. Diane, I can’t imagine kneeling on it yet, but your comments have given me a new optimism. Thank you both. Amy
Thank you so much for sharing. I am preparing for TKR in July 2020. I am literally frightened…. but trying my best to remain calm. Thks again.
Hi Ken & all other TKR’s! I am at day 99 days or just over 14 weeks. I am 56 and from Australia. I work in Darwin and it is very flat, but have a home in Hobart, Tasmania and it is very hilly and I am down for the Christmas holidays. I have been walking up hills and have got most of my lung fitness back – real killer is going down hills. The real stiffness/soreness seems to be my rectus femoris tendon area and the other Quads that attach to the bone around the knee.
Do you you massage around the tendon’s Ken?
I had withdrawls from the opiates – prefer the pain to withdrawls; I never could have become a drug addict! From you research Ken, do the patients in their 50’s heal quicker than those older or is it pretty much on par for most ages? All the best!
Thanks for the comment. Down hill was always tough for me prior to TKR. My tolerance for downhill walking is much better now. On the tendon attachments near the bone area I’d use my hand for massage – at times could be tender. I tried to focus on strengthening AND stretching to make sure those tendons didn’t get too tight. I believe the recovery time has more to do with the physical condition on the patient, but in general, it makes sense that younger patients in their 40s and 50s should bounce back more quickly than a guy like me in 60s. Wish you continued recovery!
Thanks for the info. Surgery coming up in 3 weeks. I’m pretty anxious about it. But your experience seems positive so I’m hoping for the same.
Glad it could help. Wish you a speedy recovery!
It was 6 weeks to day that I went back to work Deb.
Didn’t waste any time. Congrats on a speedy recovery. Keep up the recovery exercises!
Thank you for the great information! I am going on 3 weeks of knee replacement. I am at 90 degree angle when bending the knee. I am also doing therapy and ice. Of course when bending my knee it is stiff and sore. I feel as you “no pain no gain” . How long did it take you to fully bend you knee at more than a 90 degree angle. My therapist tells me I am on target, but I am just curious about the stages of the knee bending. Thank you
After 1 week I could get past 90 degrees, but it was sure painful due to swelling in the joint. I was given great advice when I left the hospital “take the pain pill prior to physical therapy so you can really bend the joint”. I elevated and iced after every therapy session. Best wishes in your recovery and thanks for reading.
To all….. hello !!! I had a total knee replacement August, 2019. In two days, May, 2020, I will be getting my other knee replaced. I am 70 years old. I wore out the cartilage in my knees from 25 years of running. I logged over 50,000 miles. My experience with TKR has been long but positive. The improvements come quickly early on and then, slow down. You have to follow doctors orders. Follow the physical therapy. Continue with the stretching and exercising after PT ends. I continued to stretch and walk and ride my bike on a very regular basis – 5 to 6 days a week. Some days, my knee feels great. Others, it feels stiff. You just have to keep on moving it and using it. Don’t overdo things. The bottom line is …. I would do it all again. Just follow your doctors orders, don’t give up, stay positive. It will get better…. honest. It’s a long road but, it will get better. I’m nine months into this and it feels good and it is still getting better. Now, I am starting all over again on the other knee and looking forward to no more bone on bone pain.
Hello All! I am 2- weeks post and am doing just fine. Might I say this is the 2nd knee I’ve had replaced. The biggest hurdles for me were the anxiety of surgery! PT is another hurdle, but it’s one you must accomplish. PT is so important. I’m 50 years old and bartered my knees playing sports in my neighborhood and schools as a kid. The first TKR was 1.5 years ago and the change in my life helped me decide to go for the other. One week post op, I was walking without assistance. I’m off percocet as I can’t tolerate it long-term(thank God), & I’m on my way to becoming completely knee pain free after over 30+ years of damage. You can do this!
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