The recovery time for a total knee replacement is usually 12 weeks. Rehabilitation exercises can help you recover quicker.

When you have total knee replacement (TKR) surgery, recovery and rehabilitation is a crucial stage. In this stage, you’ll get back on your feet and return to an active lifestyle.

Each person has a different recovery protocol. The recovery timeline is outlined in this article.

The 12 weeks following surgery are very important for recovery and rehab. Committing to a plan and encouraging yourself to do as much as possible each day will help you heal faster from surgery and improve your chances of long-term success.

You can learn about what to expect after surgery and how to set goals for your healing.

Rehabilitation begins right after you wake up from surgery.

Within 24 hours after surgery, a physical therapist (PT) will help you to stand up and walk using an assistive device. Assistive devices include walkers, crutches, and canes.

Changing the bandage, dressing, bathing, and using the toilet are some of the tasks that a nurse or occupational therapist can help with.

The person with Disabilities will show you how to use an aid to get around. They may want you to sit at the side of the bed, walk a few steps, and then use a bedside commode.

Continuous passive motion machine

The PT will also help you use a continuous passive motion (CPM) machine. This device moves the joint slowly and gently after surgery. It helps prevent a buildup of scar tissue and joint stiffness.

You might use the CPM machine at home too. Some people leave the operating room with their leg in the device.

Some pain, swelling, and bruising are expected after TKR surgery. Try to use your knee as soon as possible, but avoid pushing yourself too far too soon. Your healthcare team will help you set realistic goals.

What can you do?

Get plenty of rest. Your doctor will help you get out of bed. If you need a CPM machine, use it to bend and strengthen your knee.

You might use an aid on the second day. Your activity level will increase as you recover from surgery.

How to shower after knee surgery

If the surgeon used waterproof dressings, you can shower the day after surgery. If they used dressings that aren’t waterproof, you’ll have to wait for 5–7 days before showering and avoid soaking for 3–4 weeks to let the incision heal fully, according to the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons (AAHKS).

The doctor may ask you to use a regular toilet and to climb a few steps at a time. You may need to use the machine.

At this stage, work is being done on achieving full knee extension. If possible, increase knee bending by 10 degrees.

What can you do?

You can change locations on day two. You can walk a little further and get help from your doctor.

You can shower the day after surgery if you have waterproof dressings. The person may ask you to use a regular toilet in order to return to your daily activities.

You will likely stay in the hospital for 1 to 3 days after surgery, but this may be a lot longer depending on how you are healing.

When you leave the hospital, you need to be able to progress quickly with physical therapy, your health is good before surgery, and you have any medical issues.

People with more co-existing conditions or who are at a higher risk of having a procedure may be able to stay in the hospital for a portion of their recovery. Some people may have a total knee replacement as an outpatient procedure and leave the hospital after the procedure.

By the time your knee is stronger, you will be able to increase your activity. You will be working on bending your knee with or without a CPM machine.

Your doctor will be shifting you from prescription-strength to lower-dose pain medication.

What can you do?

You may be able to:

  • Stand with little or no assistance.
  • You can use the assistive devices outside of the hospital room.
  • You can use the toilet on your own.
  • You can support yourself with your upper body while climbing the stairs.

By the time you return to your home or a rehabilitation facility, you should be able to move around more freely. You will require less and less powerful pain medications.

Your daily routine will include some exercise. These will help you with your mobility and range of motion.

You may need to use a CPM machine during this time.

What can you do?

You can probably walk and stand for more than 10 minutes, and bathing and dressing should be easier.

After surgery, it’s typical for the knee to technically be able to bend between 70 and 90 degrees, though it may be difficult due to pain and swelling. After 7–10 days, you should be able to fully extend your knee out straight.

Your knee may be strong enough that you’re not carrying weight on your walker anymore. Most people progress to using a cane or nothing at all by 2–3 weeks.

If you want to avoid leaning away from your new knee, hold the cane in the hand. This can help you with your weight and walking mechanics.

If you have stayed on your exercise and rehabilitation schedule, you should notice a big improvement in your knee. The swelling and inflammation should have gone down.

The goal is to increase your knee strength and range of motion using physical therapy. Your doctor may want you to go on longer walks and stop using an aid.

What can you do?

Ideally, at this stage, you’ll feel as though you’re regaining your independence. Talk with your PT and surgeon about when you can return to work and daily activities.

You can probably walk further and use less of the devices at the end of this period. You can do more everyday tasks.

If you have a desk job, you can return to work in 4 to 6 weeks. If your job requires walking, travel, or lifting, it may be up to 3 months.

Some people start driving within 4 to 6 weeks after surgery. It’s best to clear this with your surgeon first.

You can travel after 6 weeks. Before this time, prolonged sitting during travel could increase your risk of a blood clot.

You can work on physical therapy for up to 12 weeks. Your goals will include increasing strength in your knee and the surrounding muscles, and rapidly improving your mobility and range of motion.

As your knee improves, your therapist will modify your exercises. The exercises might include:

  • Bicycling on a stationary bike: If you have access to a stationary bike, cycling may help increase mobility.
  • Toe and heel raises: While standing, rise up on your toes and then your heels.
  • Mini squats: While standing, bend your knees slightly. You can use a chair back for support if you need it.
  • Hip abductions: While standing, raise your leg out to the side. You can also do hip abductions while lying on your side by raising your leg in the air. To perform a hip abduction, while lying on your side, raise your leg in the air. This can also be done standing and raising the leg out to the side.
  • Leg balances: Stand on one foot at a time for as long as possible.
  • Step-ups: Step up and down on a single step, alternating which foot you start with each time.

This is a crucial time in your recovery. How quickly you can return to your normal lifestyle and how well your knee works in the future will be determined by how you rehabilitate.

What can you do?

You should be on the road to recovery at this point. You should have less pain and stiffness.

You may be able to walk a couple of blocks without any type of assistive device. You can do more physical activities, including recreational walking, swimming, and bicycling.

Do your exercises and avoid high impact activities that could damage your knee or the surrounding tissues at week 12. These may include:

  • running
  • aerobics
  • skiing
  • Basketball.
  • Football.
  • high intensity cycling

You should have less pain at this point. Before starting any new activities, talk to your healthcare team and avoid starting them.

What can you do?

At this stage, many people are up and about and beginning to enjoy activities like golf, dancing, and bicycling. If you are committed you are to rehab, the sooner this may happen.

At week 12, you’ll likely have less pain or no pain during your typical activities and recreational exercise and a full range of motion in your knee.

Over time, your knee will improve and you will no longer have pain.

The AAHKS says that it can take up to 3 months to return to most activities and 6 months to a year before your knee is as strong and resilient as it can be.

At this phase of recovery, you can start to relax. There’s a 90 to 95 percent chance that your knee will last 10 years, and an 80 to 85 percent chance it will last 20 years.

How long does a knee replacement last?

Stay in touch with your medical team and have regular checkups to make sure that your knee is staying healthy. The AAHKS recommends seeing your surgeon every 3 to 5 years after TKR.

Many people who undergo total knee replacement surgery report positive outcomes.

Timeline Activity Treatment
Day 1 Get plenty of rest and walk a short distance with help. Try to bend and straighten your knee, using a CPM machine if needed.
Day 2 Sit up and stand, change locations, walk a little farther, climb a few steps with help, and possibly shower. Try to increase your knee bend by at least 10 degrees, and work on straightening your knee.
Discharge Stand up, sit, bathe, and dress with minimal help. Walk farther and use stairs with a walker or crutches. Achieve at least 70 to 90 degrees of knee bend, with or without a CPM machine.
Weeks 1–3 Walk and stand for more than 10 minutes. Start using a cane instead of crutches. Keep doing exercises to improve your mobility and range of motion. Use ice and a CPM machine at home if needed.
Weeks 4–6 Start returning to daily activities like work, driving, travel, and household tasks. Keep doing your exercises to improve your mobility and range of motion.
Weeks 7–12 Start returning to low impact physical activities like swimming and stationary cycling. Continue rehab for strength and endurance training and work to achieve a range of motion of 0–115 degrees.
Week 12+ Start returning to higher impact activities if your surgeon agrees. Follow the guidance of your PT and surgeon about any ongoing treatments.

It may take up to 12 weeks after knee replacement surgery for you to fully recover. You can return to typical household tasks after about 4 to 6 weeks.

If you rehabilitate your knee and do the activities assigned by a therapist, you can regain your full motion.