For most people, knee replacement surgery improves mobility and reduces pain levels in the long term. For the first few weeks, you need to take it easy, but you can return to most daily activities soon.

Knee replacement surgery is a major procedure, so expect to have some downtime in the weeks following surgery.

After a few weeks, you can likely return to typical activities like driving, work, and household chores. However, it can take several months before you feel fully recovered.

Learn more about what to expect after a knee replacement.

After the procedure, take things slow. For most people, full recovery can take 6 to 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.

One of your biggest goals may be to start driving again. Most people can get back behind the wheel after 2 to 4 weeks. It depends on what your doctor says.

It also depends on which knee you had replaced. If surgery was on your left knee and you drive a vehicle with an automatic transmission, you might be driving again within a couple of weeks. You may need to wait longer if you drive a vehicle with a manual transmission.

It’s also important to note that you should not be taking any of your prescribed pain medications when you get back to driving.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic 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.

Set realistic expectations about when to go back to work. In most cases, it’ll be a few weeks before you can return to normal work duties.

Your timeline also depends on what your work looks like. If you work from home or have a desk job, you may be able to return to work in a week or two.

However, if your work is labor intensive, you’ll have to wait longer. You may not be able to go back to work for a few months.

Don’t expect too much from yourself at first. Speak with your boss and co-workers to make them aware of your situation, and gradually 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 staying comfortable and safe during a flight:

  • Wear compression stockings.
  • Stretch and walk around the plane every hour or more.
  • Regularly rotate each foot 10 times clockwise and 10 times counterclockwise.
  • Flex each foot up and down 10 times.

It’s a good idea to speak 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 also be an area of concern. While the metal components in your artificial knee are unlikely to set off airport metal detectors, be prepared for extra screening. Wear clothing that makes it easy to show your knee incision to security agents.

Many people find that they can safely have sex several weeks after surgery. However, it’s generally fine to proceed as soon as you don’t feel pain and are comfortable.

You can resume cooking, cleaning, and other household tasks as soon as you feel comfortable on your feet and can move around freely. However, this can take a few weeks.

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

Be sure to speak with family and friends regarding how they can support you after surgery.

Your physical therapist will likely encourage you to begin walking as soon as possible. At first, you will use an assistive device, but it’s 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 a physical therapist for those first weeks is important. It allows the therapist to detect any knee problems.

As for physical activity, swimming and other types of water exercise are good options because they are low impact. 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. Your doctor or physical therapist will give you the all-clear once they think you’re ready.

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

The AAOS recommends the following activities:

  • walking
  • golf
  • cycling
  • doubles tennis

Learn more low impact activities.

After your 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 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 for a long time can affect internal organs, and some drugs can cause physical dependence. Your doctor can help you work out a plan for gradually stopping pain relief medications to avoid any withdrawal symptoms.

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

  • a nutritious, balanced diet
  • weight management
  • exercise
  • applying ice and heat

While you recover from surgery, you need to care for the incision site. Be sure to follow the advice from your doctor. These tips are also a good place to start:

  • keep the bandages in place
  • keep the incision dry
  • avoid swimming and bathing until the incision has fully healed
  • keep pets away from your knee
  • try to keep the incision and your body clean
  • tell your doctor if you have any drainage from the incision site

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

Also make sure you’re covering your scar to protect it from sun damage. It’s a good idea to wear sunscreen and clothes that protect you from the sun. This is particularly important in the first year following surgery to prevent the scar from becoming dark and prominent.

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

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 before.

Speak 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.

While a knee replacement can improve your mobility and quality of life, recovery can take some time. It will likely be a few weeks before you can get back to your daily activities, and it may take 6 to 12 months to recover fully.

Working with a doctor and physical therapist can help you recover and regain your strength and mobility. Be patient and give your body the time it needs to heal.