Post-Surgery Recovery Times

As with any surgery (or trauma to the body), recovery times can vary quite a bit from person to person. Those differences come about due to a surgeon’s expertise, the immune system’s response times (ie, how quickly your body heals) and your post-operative care; the ways you prepare for surgery also plays a big role. Taking everything into account, before the big day, your doctor will go over all the expected recovery times with you. Those dates will help you plan your post-surgery life accordingly and, more importantly, keep you motivated to stay on track. In this article, we’ll discuss all those key milestones, both for partial and total knee replacement.

Total Knee Replacement Recovery Schedule

Day 1: Post-surgery
You just came out of surgery and are laid up in bed…most likely in pain :(. The good news is, after day 1, your new knee should be able to support your entire body weight. Some will need the assist of a crutch or walker, just make sure you don’t push it too hard. If it feels weak, ask for assistance. Therapy-wise, you should be starting your exercises right around the first day (it’s important you do so to maximize your results).

Day 3-5: Discharge
For most, this is when you’ll be discharged from the hospital. As long as you can walk (with or without crutches or a frame) and your knee exhibits good mobility, you’re ready to head home. At this stage, it’s still a good idea to have a friend or family member at home with you whenever possible…if you have an accident and/or fall, your knee’s still too fragile to perform heavy, controlled movements (like lifting your body off the floor).

Day 6-10: Stitchless
Provided you kept your sutures clean and there doesn’t appear to be an infection, you’ll probably get your stitches out a little after a week out. Enjoy the freedom!

Weeks 2-4: Major Healing
By now, the swelling, pain and inflammation in your knee should be MUCH better. Ice is still quite beneficial at this juncture, both to manage lingering pain and to speed up the healing process. During these few weeks, your knee will make major cellular and physiological strides. After 4 weeks, some folks actually start driving again, but take that slow…especially if you have manual transmission. If you feel ANY pain while braking or hitting the gas (other than the usual road rage :), give it another week or so.
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Months 2-3: Mobility
As you know, therapy and rehab are KEY to a successful outcome. I highly recommend you don’t miss even one session – if your insurance covers it (almost all do), schedule all your appointments with a qualified therapist at their office. That’ll force you to get out of the house and stay on track.

Even though your knee may feel a ton better, don’t over-extend it (literally). No squating or kneeling unless authorized by your therapist.

Months 4+: Back2Life
After 3 months, it’s time to start trying out some of your favorite activities (that’s why you got knee replacement in the first place right?!). Non-contact exercises such as swimming are typically just fine starting month 2-3, but always check with your doctor. With any activity or sport that requires heavy pivoting (tennis, softball, etc.), tread lightly. If you’re itching to get back into contact sports (basketball, football, etc), just know you’re taking a risk. Some doctors will prohibit you from them altogether, others will put it in your hands (I have buddy who got back into hockey 7 months after TKR). At the end of the day, it’s YOUR knee, so figure out how much risk you’re willing to assume for the joy of playing that sport just a few more times.

Partial Knee Replacement Recovery Schedule

As you know, the upside of partial replacement vs total is the much quicker road to recovery. Given that PKR recovery involves much the same steps as TKR above (just more condensed), here’s a handy table comparing each of the major phases:

Phase Recovery times post-surgery
Total Replacement Partial Replacement
Discharge Day 3-5 Outpatient
Stitchless Day 6-10 Day 3-6
Major Healing Weeks 2-4 Weeks 1-3
Mobility Months 2-3 Months 1-2
Back2Life Months 4+ Month 3+

Partial knee replacement implants tend to have a slightly longer lifespan than total (less moving parts), so if arthritis hasn’t set in on both sides, ask your doctor if you’re a candidate for PKR first. If you end up getting PKR and it gives you a good 10+ years of unrestricted motion, consider that a major win. If/when its parts slowly degrade or arthritis takes hold on the other side of your knee, it’ll be time to discuss total replacement.

Final Thoughts

Whichever route you take, make sure you closely monitor your progress at each stage. Don’t forget, the recovery times above (and those your DR give you) are averages. Bottom line, if you’re not getting considerably better as the weeks go by, let your doctor or therapist know. Proper therapy (and attitude!) are critical to a successful outcome, both short and long-term. Just plan ahead and commit and you’ll be there in no time – happy healing!

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