How Long Is Knee Surgery Recovery Time?

Knee surgery does not end once you leave the operating room. The recovery time afterwards is a crucial part of the healing process. If you attempt to do too much too soon or fail to follow you doctor’s orders, you may injure yourself worse and limit your chances of a full recovery. The recovery time after knee surgery can range from as little as three months to up to a full year. Each case is different and unique.

How Long Is Knee Surgery Recovery Time?

The length of your recovery time after knee surgery depends on the type of surgery you had. It usually takes around three months to one year for your knee to fully heal. If you're curious about what to expect at each phase, read the detailed timeline below. 

Day One: Starting to Recover

This is not the time to lounge around. You need to stand to keep your blood from clotting and keep the circulation going to your legs and ankles. A physical therapist will teach you how to gradually gain your strength back so you can walk around. This will include instructing you on how to enter and exit your bed, moving around with a cane or crutches.

Day Two: Staying at the Hospital

By this time, you should be off intravenous medications and eating a normal diet. Going to the bathroom will be easier. Your physical therapist will continue to work with you and will provide information on how to spot possible signs of clots and infections.

Day Three: Keeping Good Hygiene

On your third day of recovery, your wound should be healed to the point that it is okay for you to take a shower. If your physician approves it, you must first carefully remove any dressings.  After the shower, gently dry your wound with a towel in a patting motion. You need to wait until your stitches have been removed before you apply any lotions, take a bath or get in a pool.

Day Four: Time to Go Home

While knee surgery recovery time can extend as far as twelve months, typically only three to four days of it is spent in the hospital.

Goals for discharge include:

  • Get in and out of a bed or chair with little help utilizing appropriate assistive equipment.
  • Have a range of motion of 90-degrees so can easily transfer from sit-to-stand positions.
  • Go up and down stairs and be able to walk a minimum of 25 feet using crutches, cane or walker.
  • Show an understanding of rehabilitating activities and exercises.

When these goals are reached, you will either go home or will be transferred to a rehabilitation center for more physical training and guidance. Ideally when you are discharged, you will be able to get into and out of bed without assistance. You should be able to go to the bathroom on your own as well. Don’t be discouraged if you still need to use a cane, walker or crutches.

Week One: Home at Last

You will continue to clean your wound as you were taught while in the hospital. After two weeks, your stitches will be removed. If you see swelling, it is okay as long as there are no other signs of infection like fever or extreme redness. To help with the pain, administer ice or a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel on your wound. It is important to continue working on your mobility and walk every few hours during the day.

Week Two: Don’t Push It Too Hard

Your physical therapist may visit you once in a while or you may go in for sessions. You should perform daily exercises as directed in therapy. It should be easier to walk, bathe and perform normal day-to-day activities. If needed, you should continue to use mobility assistive devices.  Fit in short walks throughout the day, but do not push yourself too hard.

Week Three to Five: Getting Back to Normal Activities

During week three to six, you will be able to resume several of your normal activities. Low impact activities such as pedaling on a stationary bike or swimming will be easier on your knee. Be careful when you kneel to garden or work on projects as it may be uncomfortable, but this too will pass. Sex can resume as long as you are physically and mentally ready. Avoid high-impact activities like basketball, jogging and running.

At this point in your knee surgery recovery time, you will be able to stop taking your pain medications. Your doctor may recommend taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) for any mild discomfort or pain you might still experience.

Week Six: Putting the Medal to the Pedal

If you are free from pain and have a good range of motion, you can resume driving at this point. However, do not overdo it. If you have to wait a little longer, it is better to do so than to cause undo injury to your wound site.

Goals by week 6 include:

  • Inflammation and swelling decrease.
  • Knee strength increases through continued exercises and daily walks.
  • Range of motion improves.
  • Ability to walk and climb stairs.
  • Resume most normal activities.

Week Seven to Eleven: Adding New Exercises

During this time, you will notice vast improvement. Your physical therapist will probably modify your exercises. If you stay committed to your rehabilitation plan, your recovery will be more successful. New exercises may include:

  • Partial knee bends
  • Alternating toe and heel raises
  • Step-ups on a single step
  • Leg balance on one foot at a time

Week Twelve: Continued Improvement

Stay focused and committed to the exercise plan your physical therapist has given you. Stay away from high-impact sports such as running, football, skiing and basketball. Participating in these types of activities will only extend your knee surgery recovery time and may even cause injury.

Goals by week 12 include:

  • Little pain with normal activities.
  • Ability to do recreational, low-impact exercises.
  • Perform activities like swimming, walking, dancing and golf.
  • No loss of range of motion.

Week Thirteen and Beyond: Pain Free Daily Activity

You will continue to see major improvement. It is important to stay on track with your physical therapy and continue check-ups with your doctor so they can evaluate your progress. If you feel any pain, stiffness, unusually movement or swelling in your knee, contact your doctor right away.

Goals by week 13 include:

  • Achieve 115 degrees of flexion.
  • Ability to perform several everyday activities with very little discomfort.

Tips to Recover from Knee Surgery

1. Use of crutches of up to 10 days is normal.

2. Initiate passive range of motion activities right after surgery.

3. Ability to extend knee should be addressed as it will be difficult.

4. Start weight bearing exercises as your body allows.

5. Maintain mobility of hips, spine, ankles and pelvis.

6. Concentrate shortly after surgery on isometric hamstring and quadriceps exercises.

7. Listen and watch your body for signs of infection and clots.

8. Allow yourself to heal properly by not pushing yourself too hard and too early.