In most cases, you may leave the hospital on the day of total knee surgery or the following morning. Following a treatment plan of exercises and medications may help speed up your recovery.

Your treatment plan for osteoarthritis will usually include a combination of lifestyle changes and medications.

In time, however, you may need total knee replacement surgery.

Having an idea of what to expect after surgery may help you prepare and improve the chances of a successful outcome in the long term.

Keep reading to learn more about what to expect after total knee replacement surgery.

After total knee replacement (TKR) surgery, you may require staying in the hospital for up to 3 days, according to the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons (AAHKS).

That said, how long you stay in the hospital will depend on your recovery. For example, you may have to reach certain milestones before leaving the hospital, including:

  • standing
  • controlling pain
  • getting around with the help of a walking device
  • being able to flex and extend your knee sufficiently
  • being able to get to and use the bathroom unaided

You may need to stay in the hospital longer if you’re not yet mobile or complications develop.

Dressings

After surgery, you will most likely wake up from the anesthesia in the recovery room.

You may have a large, bulky dressing that will help control swelling.

Medications

A doctor may prescribe medications to help relieve pain, including:

Medications could be administered orally, intravenously, or by injection.

You may also receive blood thinners to help prevent clots and antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection.

After TKR surgery, you may experience side effects as a result of the anesthesia, such as:

These usually last 1–2 days.

When to get immediate medical attention

Speak with a healthcare professional immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

These may be signs of a complication that could require immediate medical attention.

Was this helpful?

It’s estimated that up to 2 in 100 people experience a complication after TKR surgery.

Some possible complications of TKD may include:

It’s also possible to experience pneumonia in the days following TKR. A doctor may show you breathing exercises to do after surgery to help avoid fluid buildup and keep your lungs and bronchial tubes clear.

Learn more about the complications of TKR and the clinical outcomes and statistics.

Exercises to help prevent blood clots after total knee replacement surgery

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons suggests that some exercises while lying in bed after TKR surgery may help maintain circulation and reduce the risk of blood clots. These may include:

  • Ankle pumps: Push your foot up and down several times every 5–10 minutes.
  • Ankle rotations: Move your ankle inward and outward five times, repeating this exercise three to four times daily.
  • Bed-supported knee bends: Lying down, slide your foot back toward your buttock, keeping your heel on the bed. Repeat 10 times, three or four times a day.
  • Straight leg raises: Tighten your thigh muscle and raise your leg a few inches, keeping it straight. Hold for 5–10 seconds, then gently lower.

Wearing compression socks may also help prevent clots, and a doctor will likely prescribe blood thinners to help, too.

Physical therapy is a common part of treatment to help restore balance, strength, and mobility. Your physical therapy regimen will usually begin within 24 hours after surgery.

A physical therapist will visit you several times to:

  • help you stand up as soon as possible
  • get you moving and help you adjust to your new knee
  • record your mobility, range of motion, and exercise progress

It’s important to get the most from these visits. The sooner you begin rehabilitation, the better your chances for a successful outcome and speedy recovery.

A doctor will develop a treatment plan to help you resume your day-to-day activities as soon as possible.

This may include a combination of natural remedies, medications, and physical therapy to help reduce pain and inflammation.

It’s important to carefully follow your treatment plan, such as:

  • taking your medication for as long as the doctor prescribes, even if you feel better
  • attending all appointments with your doctor and physical therapist
  • practicing the exercises your physical therapist has prescribed

Early goals you can set yourself may include:

  • getting in and out of bed without help
  • working on fully bending and straightening your knee
  • walking as far as you can each day, possibly with crutches or a walker

Learn more about how to manage postoperative knee pain.

The frequency of follow-up appointments after TKR depends on your surgeon, medical institution, insurance plan, and other individual factors.

Most people will have a surgical follow-up appointment at:

  • 3 weeks
  • 6 weeks
  • 3 months
  • 6 months
  • 1 year

After that, you will probably see your doctor annually to assess how well your implant is doing.

Learn more about what to expect from your artificial knee.

You should be able to resume most everyday activities within 3 months of TKR, according to the AAHKS.

Your doctor will tell you when you can drive again, usually 4–6 weeks after surgery.

Most people with sedentary employment can return to work after 4–6 weeks, but if your job involves heavy lifting, you may need to wait 3 months to resume work.

It can take 6–12 months to get back to full activity levels.

Learn more about the recovery timeline for TKR surgery.

What percent of knee replacements are successful?

According to the AAHKS, up to 95% of knee replacements still function well after 10 years and up to 85% after 20 years.

What is the failure rate of knee replacements?

Every year, 0.5–1% of knee replacements fail, according to the AAHKS.

TKR surgery may seem daunting, but learning what to expect afterward can help you prepare for your recovery.

It’s important to follow your treatment plan. This can help improve strength and mobility as quickly as possible while minimizing your risk of complications.

Combining surgery with a strategy that involves regular exercise and weight management can increase the chances of long-term satisfaction.