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What the Knee Replacement and Recovery Timeline Looks Like for Seniors

senior in knee replacement therapy at a senior living community

The Knee Replacement Recovery Timeline

Looking forward to an improved quality of life after knee surgery? Knee replacement surgery is a highly effective solution for repairing the knee and restoring its function. It’s been common in the sports medicine industry for some time, and has provided remarkable results for people of all ages. Older adults are candidates for a knee replacement if they have swelling, stiffness, and pain that makes it difficult to walk, stand or climb stairs, bothers them while resting, or disrupts their sleep. The good news is that for older adults, the risks are relatively low.

You’re ready to feel less pain and move more easily, but you may have questions about knee replacement recovery time:

  • How long will it take to recover?
  • What can I do after the surgery?
  • How can I make sure it’s successful?
  • Where can I get help afterward if I need it?

Knowing what to expect and what to do after surgery is vital to a quick and full recovery. The first few weeks will take planning, and you’ll probably feel fully recovered after 6 to 12 months. Read on to understand what to expect during the knee replacement recovery time.


Use the time prior to knee replacement surgery to prepare for your return home.
Reduce the risk of a fall: It’s essential you prevent a fall, which will complicate your recovery.
If you climb stairs to reach your bedroom or living space, set up a comfortable sleeping and living space on the ground floor. If you have to use stairs, clear the stairway, and ensure the rails are securely fixed. Clear tripping hazards (appliance cords, loose rugs, bulky furniture) from your living and dining areas.

Give yourself a raise: Add a raised toilet seat and grab bars to your shower, and consider getting a shower chair so you won’t have to stand the whole time. Use a stable living room and dining room chair with a firm seat and raised arms for support.

Cool it: Your knee will be swollen and tender after surgery. Make sure you have an ice pack (or a bag of frozen peas) already in your freezer. You’ll also need a comfortable place to rest and elevate your leg.


The operation lasts about one to two hours. You’ll receive general anesthesia, or an epidural anesthesia that blocks pain below the waist. An incision is made over your kneecap, and the damaged portions of cartilage and bone removed. Your surgeon then inserts and attaches the new artificial joint and closes the incision.

Immediately After Surgery

When you’re out of surgery, you’ll receive medication, which may include pain medication, antibiotics to prevent infection and blood thinners to prevent clots. You may take these by mouth or via an IV, which will also provide fluids. Most post-op patients wear compression stockings to improve circulation, and some need a urinary catheter for a while.

Knee replacement recovery time: In Hospital

Day 1

You’ll be encouraged to get moving right away to get your strength back; at first, you’ll walk with an assistive device such as a walker or crutches. Your physical therapist will teach you exercises to regain your knee mobility and encourage blood flow. You can learn more about orthopedic therapy here.

Day 2

You may be switched to oral pain medication, and you can probably eat regular food. Your therapist will teach you how to watch for signs of infection, clots or chest congestion. You should be able to get to the bathroom with a little help.

Day 3

Your doctor will confirm if the incision is healed enough for you to take a shower. Once you get the OK, shower with the dressing on. Then remove the dressing, gently pat the area dry, and apply a new dressing. Don’t use any creams or lotions on the area other than what your doctor prescribes. Your stitches or staples should be healed and removed in about two weeks.

Day 4

Unless you were an outpatient, you’ll probably spend up to a week in hospital after your surgery. You may be ready to return home if you can get in and out of bed or a chair without help and use the bathroom unassisted. You may still be using a walker or crutches. Some people recover best with a short stay in a rehabilitation center like ours at Freedom Pointe, where they can fully focus on their health, continue supervised physical therapy, and get help with tasks like showering and dressing.

Knee Replacement Recovery Time: Caring for Yourself

Week 1 to 3

After you’re discharged, you may need help with some daily activities. In this first stage of knee replacement recovery time, it may be difficult or painful to stand or move while showering, dressing or preparing meals, or during physical therapy exercises. Ask a family member or friend to help you run errands or drive you to appointments. Try to walk every couple of hours when you’re awake. You should be feeling less and less pain during this time.

Weeks 4 to 6

Your stitches or staples should be out by now, and you’re able to fully immerse your leg in the tub or a pool. You should be feeling more like yourself again. Ask your doctor if you can switch to over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

There should be a significant improvement in the weight your knee can support, and you should be able to bend your knee more easily. If healing is progressing well, your physical therapy exercises will become more challenging, and you may be practicing walking without support. You may still need some help with driving and grocery shopping. Ask your doctor or therapist if it’s OK to resume activities like swimming, gardening, or cycling. High-impact activities like jogging or tennis are still out for now.

Weeks 7 to 12

By now, things should be more normal. At this point in knee replacement recovery time, you should have almost 100% range of motion in your knee and be free from pain. You should be able to walk on your own and perform more physically challenging tasks like driving, housekeeping and yardwork. Because you’re feeling better, it may be tempting to forego your physical therapy exercises. Remember that the exercises and rehabilitation are critical to regaining your full strength — there’s a risk you can reinjure your new knee if you don’t give it proper time to heal.

Follow-Up Care

During the 12 months after your surgery, your doctor will schedule regular follow-up appointments to see how you’re doing. At the year mark, if all is well, you probably won’t see your doctor again till next year. It’s good to know that over 90% of knee replacements are still working 15 years after surgery.

Consider a short stay with us to speed your recovery.
The weeks following your knee replacement surgery are critical to your recovery. Why worry about chores like housekeeping or struggle with preparing a meal when we provide short-term care in our full-service rehabilitation center?

We’ve among the best rehabilitation centers in the area, and were awarded the 2019-2020 Best Nursing Home Short-Term Rehabilitation from U.S. News & World Report. Our comfortable residential setting feels like home, but with a professional medical team ready and standing by. We’ll work with you to create a customized plan to ensure your fastest, safest recovery. Contact us today to arrange your short rehabilitation stay.