Find out how long it will take to recover from a knee replacement surgery. This general, 13 week timeline is an overview of common things to expect during your hospital stay, at home, and outpatient physical therapy.
How Long Does Recovering From Knee Replacement Surgery Take?
When patients and their orthopedic surgeons agree that knee replacement surgery is a good option, one of the first questions or concerns usually is “how long will the recovery process take?” The simple answer would be about 13 weeks to recover. This timeline is dependant on a lot of factors such as type of procedure, limiting complications, and being consistent with their doctor and physical therapy visits.
Patients typically have a good understanding of the benefits of having a knee replaced, but they also appreciate knowing what is required to reach those benefits. A knee replacement, otherwise known as knee arthroplasty, is one of the most successful surgeries performed throughout the world. If you want to be a part of the 90% of people with a well-functioning knee, 15 years post-surgery, understanding each part of the recovery process can help you with that goal.
Balanced Physical Therapy has combined real-world experience with proven clinical research from around the internet to help you better understand each part of the recovery process, specific timelines for recovery, and why each element is essential.
Knee Replacement Recovery Timeline
Generally, someone who undergoes a knee arthroplasty takes about 12-14 weeks to recover fully. With the help of the Wisconsin School of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation and Healthline, we have broken down the recovery process into 5 phases:
Phase 1: Hospital Stay to Discharge
Phase 2: Weeks 1-2,
Phase 3: Weeks 3-6,
Phase 4: Weeks 7-12
Phase 5: Weeks 13 and Beyond
Knee Replacement Recovery Phase 1: Hospital Stay and Discharge
A typical hospital stay after a knee arthroplasty ranges anywhere from 1-3 days. Some patients even leave the same day, which depends on the type of procedure that is performed.
The reason knee replacement surgeries are so successful is because of their relatively low risk of complications. A majority of your hospital stay will include surgeons and hospital staff working hard to prevent complications such as infection, blood clots, pain, hardware issues, and neurovascular injuries.
While your healthcare team continues to monitor and prevent complications, patients can expect to start rehabilitation soon after the surgery. Within 24 hours, patients will work with a physical therapist to begin standing and walking again. Lack of confidence is very common during this time, so crutches and walkers help provide that extra support many patients require.
Another standard device used amongst the knee replacement population is a continuous passive motion (CPM) machine. This machine helps provide your knee with a constant motion to prevent scar tissue buildup and stiffness from being immobile. You can expect your surgeon or physical therapist to help educate you about this device and how to use it at home.
Knee Replacement Recovery Phase 2: Weeks 1-3
The first week after undergoing knee arthroplasty, patients can expect to be back in the comfort of their own homes. One of the first and most important things to know during this period is your follow-up appointment with your surgeon. Typically the follow-up is scheduled about two weeks after the knee replacement and is something every patient should markdown as “must-attend.”
Phase 2 of knee replacement rehabilitation also includes patients becoming more active with therapy. Some patients start treatment at home, while others can attend an outpatient clinic. One is not necessarily better than the other; it just depends on a person’s health status.
Some goals and priorities to be aware of include:
- Reduce pain and stiffness
- Being able to transfer from lying to sitting to standing safely with the help of assistive devices
- Being able to “heel strike” while ambulating
- Increase knee range of motion
- Ability to extend leg without lag
- Being consistent with the home exercise program provided
- Understanding the pain scale and the difference between “hurt and harm.”
Your physical therapist will design a rehab program to help you reach these goals without harming the new knee hardware or incision. Examples of exercises to expect for the weeks 1-3 after your surgery include:
- Heel Slides
- Quadriceps Sets
- Straight Leg Raises
- Sit To Stand Squats
- Stationary bike with little to no resistance
- Hamstring Curls
One of the best things about Phase 2 is that while you train your body to regain a proper gait and pain-free life, your therapist will also mix in modalities to help you progress more. Common knee replacement modalities include
- Electrical stimulation (E-stim) can help activate the quadriceps better
- transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS) can be applied to help control pain symptoms
- Soft tissue mobilization on elevated surfaces to help reduce edema (also known as swelling)
Note: These therapeutic modalities can and often are used throughout all phases of knee rehabilitation.
Knee Replacement Recovery Phase 3: Weeks 3-6
The third phase of recovering from a knee replacement is typically outside the home, in an outpatient physical therapy setting. A follow-up appointment around the six-week mark is also required, just like the one at the two-week mark.
The main goals for patients that are 3-6 weeks post-surgery include:
- Continue improving knee range of motion and quad strength
- Progress strengthening towards bodyweight, functional ambulation
- Normalization of gait (walking)
- Reduce the need for assistive devices, such as walking with only one crutch a just using a cane
- Walking short distances without using any assistive devices
During this part of the knee rehabilitation, patients are progressed with more moderate exercises such as:
- Sit to stand squats
- Leg Press
- Stationary bike with resistance
- Single leg balance
- Gastrocnemius strengthening
- Standing knee extension with therabands
- Hip and core strengthening as needed
- Neuromuscular reeducation
- Pool therapy (must have authorization from a surgeon, never before four weeks, and must have a closed incision)
Knee Replacement Recovery Phase 4: Weeks 7-12
When recovering from knee arthroplasty, the fourth phase is when most patients see the most rapid improvement to mobility and range of motion. It is an exciting time where the hard work of attending physical 2-3 times a week and staying compliant with home exercise programs starts to pay off.
Some common goals and milestones during this phase of rehab include:
- No extensor lag (lack of full knee extension with full quadriceps contraction)
- Normal gait without the use of an assistive device
- Engaging in everyday activities such as driving, housekeeping, and shopping
- Ability to ascend and descend 1-2 flight of stairs with a reciprocal gait
Your physical therapist will continue to progress your rehab and increase difficulty in the 7-12 weeks following surgery. Patients can expect exercises such as:
- Toe and heel raises while standing
- Single leg balances
- Step-ups in multiple directions
- Continued lower extremity strengthening
Even if you do not see the best results, it is crucial to stay the course. Don’t give up, ask questions, and continue to follow the guidance of your healthcare team.
Knee Replacement Recovery Phase 5: Weeks 13 and Beyond
After 13 weeks since your surgery, most patients are happy to see the finish line. Some patients may still be attending physical therapy to reach the goals you set entirely, while others are safe for discharge. Both scenarios are expected, and it varies from person to person.
Providing you have not experienced any major setbacks or complications, pain should be almost nonexistent. It is a good idea to still check in with your healthcare team. If you have pain, swelling, stiffness, or unusual movement, it is always best to call your doctor immediately.
At Balanced Physical Therapy, we understand how important fully recovering from knee surgery is to our patients. From your first evaluation, we take the time to understand everything about you and your condition. Our treatments consist of one-on-one therapy with board-certified physical therapists who are always willing to help. Call us at (586) 741-5806 or visit our Appointments page to schedule an evaluation.