Following a total knee replacement surgery, the 12 weeks after surgery are crucial in recovery and rehabilitation. Committing to a plan and pushing yourself to do as much as possible each day will help quicken the recovery process and improve your chances for long-term success and an optimal outcome. 

Understanding what to expect during the first 12 weeks following surgery can help in setting yourself up for successful healing. 

Day 1

Within the first 24 hours, your physical therapist (PT) will help you to stand up and walk using an assistive device. Your PT will show you how to get in and out of bed and do small tasks such as walking a few steps and transferring yourself to another seat across the room. They will also show you how to practice small movements to prevent the buildup of scar tissue and joint stiffness. 

Some pain, swelling, and bruising are normal after 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.

Discharge Day

You will likely stay in the hospital for 1 to 3 days after surgery. However, if you’re a candidate for a same-day outpatient knee replacement procedure, you may be leaving the hospital on the same day of your surgery. Dr. Nelson can help you determine if you’re a candidate for this procedure. When you can leave the hospital depends heavily on the physical therapy you need, how quickly you can progress, your health before surgery, your age, and any medical issues. 

By now your knee should be getting stronger and you’ll be able to increase your exercise and other activities. At discharge, you may be able to:

  • Stand with little or no help
  • Go on long walks outside your hospital room and rely on assistive devices less
  • Dress, bathe, and use the toilet on your own
  • Climb up and down a flight of stairs with help

Weeks 3 to 11

Through staying consistent with an exercise and rehab schedule, you should notice a dramatic improvement in your knee, including bending and strength. Physical therapy will continue for up to 12 weeks. Your goals will include rapidly improving your mobility and range of motion — possibly to 115 degrees — and increasing strength in your knee and the surrounding muscles.

Your PT will modify your exercises as your knee improves. Exercises might include:

  • Toe and heel raises: While standing, rise on your toes and then your heels.
  • Partial knee bends: While standing, bend your knees and move upward and downward.
  • 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.
  • Bicycling on a stationary bike.

This is a very important time in your recovery. Committing to physical therapy will determine how quickly you can return to a normal, active lifestyle, and how well your knee works in the future.

Week 12

At week 12, keep doing your exercises and avoid high-impact activities that could damage your knee or the surrounding tissues, including: 

  • Running
  • Aerobics
  • Skiing
  • Basketball
  • Football

At this stage, many people are up and about and beginning to enjoy activities like golf, dancing, and bicycling. You will likely have less pain or no pain during normal activities and recreational exercise. The more committed you are to your recovery plan, the sooner this can happen. 

Dr. Nelson is experienced with knee replacements and helping his patients return to their daily activities. He will be highly involved in your recovery process to make sure you return to your action without pain! To schedule your appointment with him, please give us a call at 435-774-8511.