For most people, knee replacement surgery will improve mobility and reduce pain levels in the long term. However, it can also be painful, and it may be a while before you can start moving around as you wish.

Here, learn more about what to expect.

After the procedure, you’re likely to face various challenges. For most people, recovery can take 6–12 months, and possibly longer in some cases.

Knowing what to expect can help you make it through your day more effectively and get the most out of your new knee.

Keep reading to find out what adjustments you may need to make.

One of your biggest goals may be to start driving again. Most people can get back behind the wheel after 4–6 weeks, depending on what your doctor says.

If surgery was on your left knee and you drive a vehicle with automatic transmission, you might be driving again within a couple of weeks

You could be back on the road in about 4 weeks if you had surgery on your right knee, according to orthopedic research experts.

It may be longer if you drive a vehicle with manual transmission. In any case, you must be able to bend your knee enough to operate the pedals.

You must avoid driving if you’re taking narcotics or other medications that may impair your ability to operate a vehicle.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends checking with your doctor before getting behind the wheel.

If necessary, obtain a disabled parking placard, especially if you have to walk long distances in poor weather while using a walker or other assistive device.

Use this timeline to find out more about how long recovery is likely to take.

Set realistic expectations about when you should go back to work. In most cases, it’ll be 3–6 weeks before you can return to work.

You may be able to get back to work within 10 days if you work at home.

However, you’ll likely need longer if your work is labor intensive; possibly 3 months or more.

Don’t expect too much from yourself at first. Speak to your boss and co-workers to make them aware of your situation. Try to ease back into full working hours.

Traveling is tough on your body, especially if you take a long flight with tight legroom.

Here are some tips for keeping fit inflight:

  • wear compression stockings
  • stretch and walk around the plane every hour or more
  • regularly rotate each foot 10 times clockwise and 10 times anticlockwise
  • flex each foot up and down 10 times

Exercises and compression hose can help prevent blood clots from developing.

Your knee may also swell due to changes in cabin pressure.

You may want to talk with your doctor before any long-distance travel to be sure they don’t have any specific concerns during the first few months after surgery.

Airport security may become more of an issue after your surgery. The metal components in your artificial knee could set off airport metal detectors. Be prepared for extra screening. Wear clothing that makes it easy to show your knee incision to security agents.

Most people find that they’re able to engage in sexual activity several weeks following surgery.

However, it’s generally fine to proceed as soon as you don’t feel pain, and you’re comfortable.

You can resume cooking, cleaning, and other household tasks as soon as you feel comfortable on your feet and can move around freely.

Expect to wait several weeks before you can lay aside the crutches or cane completely and get back to most daily activities.

It may also take several months to kneel without pain. Consider using a pad to cushion your knees in the meantime.

How will your daily life be impacted as you recover from knee surgery?

Your physical therapist will encourage you to begin walking as soon as possible. At first, you will use an assistive device, but it is best to use this only as long as you need it. Walking without a device will help you regain strength in your knee.

Working with the physical therapist for those first weeks is important as it will allow the therapist to detect any knee problems.

You can start walking farther and begin to engage in other activities after about 12 weeks.

Swimming and other types of water exercise are good options, as these low-impact activities are easy on your knee. Make sure your wound has completely healed before entering a pool.

Avoid placing weights on your leg and doing leg lifts on weight machines for the first few months, until you get the go-ahead from your physical therapist or doctor.

Your new knee will make it much easier to engage in a diverse array of activities. However, it’s important not to put too much stress on the joint.

The AAOS recommends the following activities:

  • walking
  • golf
  • cycling
  • ballroom dancing

Avoid squatting, twisting, jumping, lifting heavy objects, and other movements that could damage your knee.

For more low-impact activities, click here.

For 2 years following a knee replacement, you have a higher risk of infection.

For this reason, you may need to take antibiotics before any dental work or invasive surgical procedure.

Practice guidelines might change for this, so be sure to consult with your doctor or dentist before you undergo any procedure.

Follow your doctor’s instructions closely when taking medication as you recover, particularly pain relief medications.

Taking medications over a long time can cause damage to internal organs, including your liver and kidneys. Some drugs can also be addictive.

Your doctor can help you work out a plan for gradually stopping pain relief medications.

Apart from drugs, the following can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation:

  • a healthful diet
  • weight management
  • exercise
  • applying ice and heat

Which medications will you need for knee surgery?

For the first few weeks, loose, light clothing may be more comfortable, although this may not be possible during the winter.

You’ll have a scar following knee replacement surgery. The size of the scar depends on the type of procedure you have.

To some extent, the scar will fade over time. However, you may want to wear long pants or longer dresses to hide or protect the wound, particularly in the beginning.

Wear sunscreen and clothes that protect you from the sun.

You’ll return to your everyday routine over time. You may even be able to resume activities that you gave up when you started to have knee pain.

Quality of life will likely improve as you are able to move more easily than you have for some time.

It is essential to work out what you can do at each stage with your healthcare provider. They can recommend sports and activities that will suit your needs.

Talk with your doctor, physical therapist, or occupational therapist if you have questions about activities and your body.

They can help guide you to better understand your life — and lifestyle — following a knee replacement.