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What You Can Expect After a Total Knee Replacement

Updated: Aug 10, 2022

If you are about to have or are considering a knee replacement, then you have probably been dealing with knee pain for some time. Unless you have spoken to a friend, you may not know what to expect after surgery. Luckily, your physical therapist is aware of what you can do to help with your recovery, what exercises to perform, and when you can expect to return to your normal activities. In previously healthy patients, here is what you should expect after a knee replacement.

1st week: The week after surgery will be an adjustment. Sleeping will be challenging. During this time, your focus is on pain control and, if needed, starting home therapy. Your home care therapist will focus on your general mobility including walking with an assistive device, working on getting in and out of a chair and bed mobility. A cold pack will be your best friend.

2nd week: Your home care therapist will progress to more specific exercises including working on your balance, performing knee mobility, working with less restrictive assistive devices, and possibly attempting stairs. Sleeping may still be challenging and you will want to continue using a cold pack. Your home care therapist may discharge you and you should be ready to start outpatient therapy.

3rd and 4th weeks: You will be seen by an outpatient therapist, who will assess your knee mobility, incision integrity and swelling. Ideally, you should be able to bend your knee to at least 90 degrees and should be able to straighten your knee fully to zero degrees. If you aren’t quite there, your therapist will show you specific exercises to achieve this motion. It is important to note that for most people after a knee replacement, exercises should not be extremely painful. Some pain is to be expected but you should not be to the point of tears.

2nd month: You will start performing more advanced strengthening exercises as you continue to progress with your knee mobility. You may start sleeping longer at night with less discomfort. Your incision should be healed, swelling should be decreasing and motion should be getting close to your full expected range.

3rd month: This may be your last month of therapy. Strength should be improving but you still may not be able to perform stairs with a reciprocal pattern (foot over foot). Pain should still be subsiding but may not be completely gone. Return to work should be on the horizon and you should feel more comfortable performing some of your daily activities and hobbies.

Our recovery team has a long history of providing physical therapy to patients who are healing from a Total Knee Replacement. We've witnessed numerous patients throughout the years who have regained their mobility successfully. If you, or someone you care about, is going to have this surgery, please share this blog and keep us in mind for outpatient physical therapy.


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