Swimming After Knee Replacement Surgery (My Experience and Tips)

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Swimming is a great exercise for everyone. Because it’s a low-impact exercise, you can continue swimming for a lifetime.

Swimming builds endurance, muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness. Swimming can also help you maintain a healthy weight and a healthy heart and lungs.

In this article, I will share my experiences in the pool after surgery. You may be wondering when you can get in the pool after surgery.

You may also be concerned about how to design a workout post surgery. I will share my experience swimming post TKR and hopefully, it will help to answer some of your questions.


One of the few pain-free activities that I could do before TKR was to swim laps. Not all swimming strokes were pain-free for me but I could do the breaststroke and the freestyle without pain.

Swimming can be a big part of your pre-surgery preparation and it can build up the muscles around your knee prior to surgery and make it easier to recover after your surgery. Check out my prior article on my pre-surgery swimming routine.

When Was I Cleared To Swim After Knee Replacement

Since I had been swimming on a regular basis (3 times a week) before my TKR, I was anxious to get back into the pool.

My doctor gave me the okay on week five, post-TKR.

He wanted all the scabs to be gone and he wanted to make sure that there was no opening on the wound at all. When he gave me the “all clear” he told me I could swim in a pool, the ocean, or a lake.

I could also use the hot tub. After swimming for two weeks, I had an internal stitch come to the surface that broke the skin and the doctor told me to refrain from swimming until it scabbed over and the entire scab disappeared. I was unable to swim for about a week.

If you have not been swimming before your surgery I suggest that you buy a good pair of goggles. I recommend these popular Speedo goggles on Amazon.

My First Day Swimming After TKR (How It Felt and Pain)

I was very tentative the first day that I entered the pool. I was afraid to kick hard during both the breaststroke and the freestyle stroke.

I decided to walk a few laps first, marching with high steps. After a few walking laps I tried swimming a breaststroke. My range of motion was increasing daily (read more about my range of motion and goals) but the surgical knee did not bend and kick as well as my non-surgical knee.

When I got in the pool, I started with small flutter kicks while holding onto the side of the pool.  To my surprise, there was no pain. I then tried the freestyle stroke with no pain. My cardio fitness was sorely lacking and I was only able to swim four laps at a time and then I had to rest for 30 seconds to a minute.

While resting, I did leg extensions and leg flexion and ankle pumps and circles.

After two weeks, swimming 3 times a week, I was able to swim 32 laps without stopping to rest (about a half mile) pain-free.

Swimming Techniques (Breaststroke, Backstroke etc.) After Knee Replacement

As I mentioned above, the breaststroke was a bit awkward at first because the surgical knee was not flexing on the kick as well as the non-surgical knee. I was still going to therapy and working on my range of motion at this point.

The freestyle stroke was very comfortable and I was able to swim with ease. As time went by I tried the backstroke, which had caused me a lot of pain pre-knee replacement surgery.

I started off with small flutter kicks again and to my amazement, there was no pain. I was also able to do flutter kicks both on my back and stomach without any pain. As time went by and my range of motion increased I was able to kick much better when doing the breaststroke (you can read more about techniques on this swimming pool website).

swimming after tkr surgery
Courtesy of swimminglessons.com.sg

Best Exercises For Swimming After TKR

If you are not used to swimming I would suggest you get into the pool as soon as possible and begin walking, marching and water jogging. Try flutter kicking on your stomach and back holding on to the edge of the pool.

Next, you may want to use a kickboard and begin flutter-kicking laps before using specific strokes. As soon as you can, try to swim one lap at a time until you can swim multiple laps.

>>check out my article on advanced exercises after TKR

The freestyle stroke was the easiest beginning stroke for me. While resting, work on your range of motion in the water and also work on extensions. I even did ankle pumps and ankle circles between laps early on.


Swimming can be boring and it gives you a great deal of time to think. Swimming was not an activity that was high on my list of exercise when I was young and healthy enough to run, play softball and basketball. As time wore on I began to eliminate high impact activity. I discovered swimming because it was an activity that I could do relatively pain free.

Whether you have had TKR or not, swimming is a great exercise. If you know you are going to have TKR, start swimming as part of your pre-surgery exercise program.

Swimming has so many health benefits especially for seniors who may no longer be able to participate in high impact activities. Get in the pool as soon as your doctor gives you the okay.

Start out walking, marching and jogging and transition to swimming a lap at a time. I am no longer able to play basketball or jog but I can see myself swimming and biking for many years to come.

Swimming can be a lifetime activity. I hope this article has encouraged you to develop a swimming routine before and after TKR surgery. It has been an important part of my recovery.

Thank you for reading my blog. Check out the homepage for more of my experience!

20 thoughts on “Swimming After Knee Replacement Surgery (My Experience and Tips)”

  1. I was raised at a Lake and was a very good swimmer. After my TKR surgery, I find that my new knee is very heavy and actually pulls my leg down. I sink! Anyone else have this problem? Any suggestions to stop this? I would love to swim again, but can’t!

    • Undortunately I have same problem like you and I have just realized my heavy and sinking leg. It took me two years to understand this. Before TKR I was lying on both side of my body, front and back, but now my leg sinks very fast if I don’t flutter my legs. If you had a solution to this problem would you help to sort it out?

      • I have my both knees done 2 years ago. I am good swimmer. I use to float for 15 to 30 mins after 10 to 25 laps. Now its difficult as my legs sink if stop moving my legs. Its a fact. Slowly I am adapting to the circumstances.

    • Have you tried using a pull buoy (float) between your thighs? This really gets your legs into a higher position.
      I have also been told by my physiotherapist that breaststroke is NOT a good idea, as the replacement joint is a hinge, and should not be stressed by trying to kick sideways.

  2. I had my surgery 11 wks ago and tomorrow will get back into the pool. I am a water baby, and not being able to swim for 3 months ( or do yoga!) has just about killed me.

  3. 5 weeks in ,I have gone back in the pool . I did mostly front crawl but also 200 m with the flutter board , my knee felt great . The next day it was sore ,mostly from the quad s and hams that were worked.
    I was worried about doing whip kick or egg beater . I think maybe to soon for those.
    Would like to go back to water polo some day .

    • Get after it in the pool! I think the low-impact exercise of swimming is the best way to go. Good to hear others feel the same way. Muscle soreness is a good thing!

  4. Enjoyed your perspective Ken. I’m 60 years old, and train for triathlons. My TKR will be 5 weeks ago in two more days. That is when I will begin swimming again. My pre-TKR routine was 45 min – 90 minutes of hard workouts. Approx 1.5 miles -3 mile distances. I’ll give you an update after a few days of workouts for another perspective.

    • Hi Jeff, how is the recovery going? Has swimming been a successful aspect of your rehab? I’m officially two years out from TKR and I have to throttle myself but no longer feeling pain or have much swelling. Best wishes.

  5. June27,2019

    I am having difficulty entering my inground pool after knee replacement. Any suggestions?

    • I am not sure what the cost would be, but there is a possibility that you could have some portable stairs built that hang over the side of the pool and supported on the ground. We have them at our public pool.

  6. Sammie: Do you have a rail and stairs ? You should go down stairs on your weak/surgical side leading and upstairs with your strong leg leading. Put both feet on each stair before proceeding to the next.
    If you do not have a rail but do have stairs use a cheap aluminum cane with a rubber tip to lean on while getting in and out. I would not jump in if there are no stairs but I’m presuming there are several. Do you end up standing in shallow water at the end of the stairs or are you trying to get out of deep water with a vertical ladder? -that might be hard.
    I did not have a knee replacement but had a fairly aggressive arthroscopic meniscus repair and arthritis clean out 3 and 1/2 weeks ago. I was cleared to swim after about 2 weeks. I can flutter kick but frog kicking is painful and I am not doing it. I am doing some quadriceps exercises in the pool and water walking. I have not tried running yet.

  7. Hi I had my thr about 4 years ago and would never regret it.
    I used to swim all the time when I was young always in the water but it got less as was working full time and other health issues stopped me.

    But a few weeks ago I started swimming again and can honestly say it’s made a lot of difference to my health and mood! Your comments are very helpful
    Long may we swim!!

  8. I had my TKR six weeks ago. Got in the pool for the first time today. Lots of popping in my replaced knee and when I did backstroke, had a small discomfort on the back of my knee. Otherwise felt really good to get back in the pool. Still a lot of stiffness in my surgical knee. I am sure this will clear quickly as I swim more.

    • I hope that popping and discomfort goes away as your body adjusts. I found I had stiffness for several months, mostly because of the minor swelling in the joint. Swimming is such a great rehab activity. Best wishes in your recovery and thanks for the comment.

  9. I had Bilateral TKR Feb 4 2020. I have done well with rehab and am learning to walk and I ride my recumbent bike often but today I had an opportunity to swim in my sin’s new pool and I was horrified to find I can barely swim due to y legs sinking very Quickly! It scared me to death! I have always been a pretty good swimmer! Help!

  10. Had a partial knee replacement at the end of November 2019. Had about 3 sessions in the local hydrotherapy pool before COVID-19 struck. Am now at our house in Spain and using the pool several times a week. My knee has become very stiff and quite painful – have been doing the breast stroke legs too. Should I avoid this stroke/legs? It is the only stroke that I am passable at.

    Your advice would be appreciated.

    • I think any kind of water movement is good, including stretching. You’ll have to do what feels best for you, but I’m a supporter of water workouts! Enjoy Spain!

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