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 What Does a Knee Replacement and Recovery Timeline Look Like for Seniors?

Sporty senior man having a knee injury.

If knee pain has been holding you back from an active lifestyle, your doctor may recommend knee surgery for an improved quality of life. Whether the pain is due to an acute injury or wear and tear over the years, knee replacement surgery is an effective solution for repairing the knee and restoring knee function in older adults — and adults of all ages. You may be a candidate for a knee replacement if you have swelling, stiffness, and pain that makes it difficult to walk, stand or climb stairs, bothers you while resting, or disrupts your sleep. 

Before making the decision to have surgery, it’s important to understand what your knee replacement recovery time will be like. Here are some common questions to ask your doctor: 

·   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 before, during, and after surgery is vital to a quick and full recovery. For many seniors, the benefits of a short stay in a rehabilitation center are well worth considering. Otherwise, you may need to have someone help you in your home for the first few weeks. You’ll probably feel fully recovered after 6 to 12 months. Read on for a timeline of what to expect regarding recovery time while you’re in the hospital and planning your post-hospital care.


Use the time prior to knee replacement surgery to prepare for your return home.

Protect yourself from fall risks: It’s essential to 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.

Make  quick fixes in the home: 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.

Be ready to apply ice: 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. Learn more about the importance of rehabilitation therapy after a knee replacement.

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 had outpatient surgery, you’ll probably spend up to a week in the 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. You may recover best with a short stay in a rehabilitation center like ours at Parkwood, where you can fully focus on your 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, cycling or bocce ball. High-impact activities like jogging or tennis are still out for now.

Weeks 7 to 12

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 key to regaining your full strength, and 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 one-year mark, if all is well, you probably won’t see your doctor again until 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 Maximize Your Recovery

If you’re planning for a knee replacement surgery, you can rest assured that our team of professionals will be there to help you down the road of recovery with plenty of comfort and care in mind. Parkwood offers unique one-on-one care that will help ensure a successful recovery. Contact us to learn more or schedule a tour of our senior rehabilitation center

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