knee replacement recovery tips

17 Knee Replacement Recovery Tips (Things I’ve Learned)

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

Need some tips to enhance your knee replacement recovery? Some of these ideas I learned from friends and acquaintances that had already had knee replacement surgery and they shared their experiences with me.

I read as much as I could before my TKR so that I would have a good understanding of what my recovery was going to entail. Then, I learned the old fashioned way by experiencing TKR and the recovery process myself.

You don’t have any control over the actual surgery (that’s why you are careful to pick a good surgeon), but once the operation is complete it is solely up to you to decide how hard you are going to work at recovery. Below are my suggestions for a successful TKR recovery.

As I mentioned in other articles, the rehab starts immediately after your surgery. Physical therapy begins in the hospital, continues at home, and then to an offsite therapist and finally, you can continue the rehab as long as you want it to last.

Knee Replacement Recovery Tips

#1 Get Your Leg, Knee and Muscles Ready For Surgery

Do your best to strengthen your knee (muscles) before surgery. The stronger your muscles and supporting structures around your knee are pre-surgery the better your recovery will be.

I couldn’t lift weights with my knee but I could ride a bike and swim without pain. Find some type of exercise that is comfortable for you and start exercising your leg months before your surgery.

#2 Do Your Exercises Even Though It Hurts

The rehab is going to hurt. Your pain will depend on your own pain threshold. Even though it hurts to exercise, do your best and persevere.

Remember the old saying, “no pain no gain”. It was easier for me to do my rehab and exercises when the therapist was present and encouraging me.

When I had to do another two sets of the same exercises after she left and after I left the physical therapy office, it was up to me to complete the routine. Nobody was watching and it is tempting to take shortcuts. Don’t take shortcuts.

#3 Refuse The Urge To Be Sedentary

Besides prescribed exercise routines, your therapist will want you to take walks. Make yourself get out of the recliner and outside for at least 3 walks a day once your therapist gives you the go ahead.

If your caregiver or a friend or family member will walk with you, their encouragement and conversation make taking walks easier. Do ankle pumps and ankle rolls even when you are sitting down.

#4 Ice Religiously

Ice your knee after exercise and after walking. If your knee feels good after exercise and you don’t notice any swelling or pain, ice anyway.

Also, if you are sitting, reading or watching TV, ice between exercises. The more you ice early on the sooner the swelling will decrease.

#5 Elevate Even When You Feel Good

Ice and elevation are the keys to your recovery. You can ice throughout the day and you can elevate your knee anytime you are sitting or lying down.

If you are like me, you will find yourself sitting around in your recliner a lot between exercise times. Keep your leg elevated with a wedge pillow even if your recliner elevates your knee somewhat.

If it is comfortable continue to sleep at night with your knee elevated. Again just because you feel good, don’t stop elevating your knee.

#6 Work On Your Walking Form

Pre-surgery my leg was bowed and walked with a noticeable limp. Once you start walking after TKR you may have to relearn to walk correctly.

My in-home therapist made it a point to walk behind me reminding me to walk with proper form. On your other walks, have your caregiver or walking partner critique your walking form.

Discard those old shoes that show wear from walking incorrectly.

If you can, video record you walking form before surgery and then have your walking partner video your new form occasionally.

#7 Take A Pain Pill or Tylenol Substitute Before Exercises (and Physical Therapy)

Early on I always took a pain pill 30 minutes before my in-home therapy session. Once I weaned myself off the pain medicine, I took a Tylenol pill.

I continued to take a Tylenol pill before my off-site therapy sessions too. Taking the medication made it easier for me to do my rehab, especially the range of motion exercises.

#8 Early On Focus On Range Of Motion

All exercise after knee replacement is important to strengthen the muscles and supporting structures of the knee. Strengthening the hip is important too.

However, the sooner you begin to see progress on your range of motion the better your recovery will be. Your therapist will have you doing range-of-motion exercises right off the bat.

You don’t want scar tissue to build up. You want to avoid returning to your surgeon for manipulation under anesthesia or in extreme cases, surgery to remove scar tissue.

The range of motion exercises will hurt and cause discomfort but trust me the pain is worth the result. Don’t get discouraged, take shortcuts or give up.

#9 Try Not To Touch The Wound (less chance of infection)

You want to avoid infection in your wound especially while the staples are present. You will be advised not to shower until the staples are removed.

Be careful when hand washing around the wound. Wear shorts if possible so that fabric doesn’t rub across the wound and staples.

#10 Massage Around The Knee Often

Massage definitely was a plus in my recovery. My caregiver usually gave me at least one extended massage on the sides of my knee and on the back of my knee.

I massaged my knee myself before my 3 daily exercise sessions. A massage right before bedtime also felt great.

I used the product “Free Up Massage Cream” that my therapist recommended. Other kinds of lotion or cream work well too.

#11 Use Walking Poles In The First Few Month

You will need to use a walker immediately after TKR. In a few days, you will transition to walking poles or a cane.

I recommend walking poles and it is important to have them on hand. The poles will help you maintain balance when you begin walking again and they will also take some weight off of the knee and hip.

#12 Invest In New Shoes For Extra Cushion

Before TKR, invest in a couple of new pairs of shoes. Your old shoes may have wear from walking incorrectly.

Spend a little more than usual and get a good athletic shoe with cushion (air) for your walks. Consider a pair of slip-ons or Velcro tie shoes for around the house.

#13 Don’t Forget The Scar Cream (Keep Scar Hydrated)

Use scar cream and an aloe based lotion often. I always applied it first thing in the morning as well as before and after my 3 exercise sessions.

It is inexpensive and ensures the scar is hydrated, making it more comfortable to bend especially during my range of motion exercises. At my age, I wasn’t as worried about the cosmetic appearance of the scar, but if you are concerned, apply the scar cream often.

#14 Wear Loose, Comfortable Clothes

As I mentioned above, you will have staples in your knee for about 12 days. Short pants or athletic shorts make it easy to dress and also keeps the fabric from long pants off the wound.

Even after the staples have been removed long pants especially denim can cause discomfort. If you have to wear long pants, I recommend thin fabric or zippered pants that are specially made for post-surgery (side button pants work too). Check out my article on what to wear after TKR.

This is another good reason to plan your surgery and recovery during warmer weather when less clothing is necessary.

#15 Plan Meals Ahead Of Time (or get delivery)

If you have a reliable caregiver that can prepare meals for you after TKR you are fortunate. Otherwise, you might consider preparing and freezing meals ahead of time.

Packaged cereal for breakfast is much easier than frying eggs, bacon and making toast. You may consider restaurants that deliver meals (not just pizza) and some communities have meals on wheels for seniors.

Keep snacks and water close to where you will be sitting during the day so that they are within reach.

#16 Plan Activities That You Can Do During recovery

Plan some sedentary activities that you can accomplish while recovering. Puzzles, video games, and TV can occupy your recovery time.

However, you may want to make better use of your time. You may have a hobby or a project or two that you have been wanting to do such as sorting old photographs, writing letters, knitting, reading or drawing to name a few.

Have materials nearby and ready so that they are easy to access once you feel like doing something.

#17 Have any Necessary Items

Tissue, lip balm, lotion, lens cleaners, and medication need to be within easy reach of where you are sitting.

I had my TV remotes, my fan remote and my fireplace remote nearby within easy reach. I also had a laptop computer and a kindle next to my chair.

Make sure your phone is within easy reach to answer phone calls, texts and to access emails easily.

If your thermostat has a remote keep it handy especially during hot or cold weather.

Conclusion

Planning ahead can make your recovery from TKR much easier. In this article, I included some tips that helped me throughout my recovery.

Exercise and therapy are the keys to your recovery. Get organized before surgery. The more comfortable you are and the easier you can access needed items the better your recovery will be.

Choose the right clothing and shoes. Prepare meals and have easy access to food, water, and snacks.

Use walking aids to help you regain proper walking form. Plan some meaningful project or projects that you can accomplish during your recovery.

Follow your physical therapists plan for exercise and do not take shortcuts. I hope these tips will be useful to you during your TKR recovery. Thanks for reading my blog.

Comments

  1. Great info. I should have done my homework earlier. You have given some helpful and useful information. I am 8 wks into recovery and finally peddling the stationary bike forward. Thanks for the info. Looking forward to what comes next.

    1. Author

      At 8 weeks it still feels like you’re going uphill. But I’m sure you feel much better than the first few weeks. Congrats on making the jump to the bike. When I ride the stationary bike it still takes me a few minutes for the knee to loosen up. Stay active and I bet you’ll continue to get improvements. It will take up to a year to get the best improvements but at 3 months you’ll likely be moving around well.

      1. Curious what you used to ice your knee. I am one week post op and have been using a TheraZone machine which I hate. Just doesnt get cold enough for my liking and I think knee is swollen too much. Going to switch to ice paks.

        So several things they dont tell you – although my spinal wore off in my legs fairly quickly, I did not regain control of my bladder until evening of surgery. Also, TKR can cause low blood pressure. Was sitting in chair and suddenly felt nauseous and that I was going to pass out. They rushed me to my bed and BP was extremely low. Had to pump me with IV fluids and ended up spending extra night in hospital.

    2. Oh my I wish I had a read this before I did my surgery I’m in so much pain I had my surgery August 7th I had an in-house therapy to come by twice a week I believe now he’s gone insurance only pay for 21 days so now I’m waiting to see the outside therapist I’m having a difficult time sleeping I tried putting pillows under my ankles under my knees nothing works I’m just miserable for no reason but thanks so much I read your article and feel much better about it I was so down thanks for the tips

      1. Hi Rita…I had my TKR on August 12 and it is not an easy surgery. Don’t get discouraged. Be sure to take your pain medication. I know there is a lot of worry about opioid abuse but if you take as directed when you need it…you will feel better. I have slept in my recliner for 4 weeks because I could not get comfortable in my bed until just last night. I found that if I bent my knee in my sleep the pain would start so I tried to keep my leg straight and that was more comfortable. Be sure you are doing your physical therapy exercises! They really are important. I understand “being down”. Pain is different for everyone and I have decided I am definitely in the “not brave pain group”! So don’t worry about how everyone else is doing…do your exercises and take the pain meds!

        1. Thank you Barbara for the encouragement Lord knows I need it I’m going to therapy three times at the week I’m getting to the point where I can’t wait to go Harmony and Hope I’m not driving yet my husband is still doing that for me and yes if you say I need to take my pain medicine my therapist told me please take it before I come just hate taking medicine especially ones that you depend on but thank you thank you thank you again I needed that Rita

  2. Very well written. I’m two months out from have both my knees replaced at the same time. I did this for the most part on my own.
    Everything you said about preparing your body , mind and environment for the surgery…be it one or two …is so important.
    Prepare prepare prepare, like painting a house. Prep makes the end product come out its best.
    There are good times and no lies…times you think “what the h%^^ was I thinking”. But I’m glad I did it. And don’t regret my decision.
    Good luck all. And climb that mountain 🧗‍♂️ The prize is worth it.
    Your best possible health 🏆🌝

  3. Great info!! My surgery is tomorrow – YIKES!! I am fully committed to my rehab whatever it entails. I hv shorts and comfortable slippers for the hospital. They expect me to stay 2 nights. As my husband still works, I’ll hv no one here during the day so I’m hoping to be released to a rehab. How did you get along at home?

  4. i had my knee replacement 12 weeks ago and i have still nerve pain down my leg what should i do it is driving me mad in bed and cannt sleep

  5. Great article and reassuring to read. I am 2 weeks post surgery and have good and some bad days. I am struggling big time with lack of sleep. I cannot get comfortable in bed, despite trying raising my leg on pillows, proofing my self up, laying flat, on my side, nothing is comfortable and painkillers are not working and I am suffering. I am ploughing on with my exercises although I seem to have a good day where I’m making progress and the next can hardly bend or straighten the knee due to swelling, and then feel I’m back to square one. Reading this gives me hope that it will get better. And maybe I need to be a bit patient.

    1. Author

      I also had the swelling after movement/workouts. Icing and elevating the knee will help with the swelling. Above all, keep moving even though it’s tough. You’re right in the middle of the most important stretch…stay positive!

  6. Thank you for the information!.I’ve been following your blog and appreciate your honesty and tips. Im a nurse and have had arthritis for years. I suffered 3 tears on labor day which compounded my arthritiss. My therapy friends hooked me up with a over the toilet commode,tub bench and tub rails. I’ve installed 2 new hand held shower heads too. I even invested in a recliner! I still struggle to sleep post injury. I found the eye mask helps. Surgery is 11/19/19 & I’m ready!

    1. Author

      Thanks for the comment. Good preparation really goes a long way with recovery. Best wishes with surgery and the months afterward!

  7. This website has been very helpful but I must admit I am very worried about handling the recovery. I live alone and will have a friend stay for a couple of days but then I’m on my own. Not sure I can do it. Even things like having to get to the door whenever the therapist comes. Any suggestions? Thanks

    1. Author

      Asking a friend to help is a great idea. If you’re in good shape going into surgery, you’ll be walking around within a few days. Of course, it will be uncomfortable but if you have a walker or cane you’ll be okay to answer the door. If you’re not as mobile/active going into surgery this may be easier said than done. Even though recovery takes a long time, I was surprised how quickly I was hobbling around. Thanks for reading and for the comment. Let us know how your recovery progresses.

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