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Returning to Physical Activity After A Total Knee Replacement

Written by OneStep Physical Therapist Elissa Galster, PT, DPT


After a total knee replacement surgery, it’s important to take the proper steps to regain the function required to return to your regular physical activities. First, start with walking each and every day as a vital beginning step. With continued walking, you’ll be able to improve your endurance and make continued progress in the recovery journey. Keeping up with an exercise routine prescribed by your PT will also help you improve your range of motion and strength. Don’t get discouraged if you cannot perform a specific exercise or function as soon as you’d like. Most activities can be modified for success!

• After a total knee replacement surgery, you will need an assistive device such as a walker for the first few days or weeks.  When you can tolerate weight bearing on your operated leg, you may be ready to advance to a cane, then as your balance and strength progress, you will not need a device at all! Usually, this process takes about 4-6 weeks for most people.
• Your PT and/or surgeon will be able to help you determine when you are ready to transition assistive devices and eventually be able to walk without one.

• You will likely find it more challenging to stand up and sit down. Low and soft surfaces like toilets and couches will likely require more effort, increased time, and the use of your arms to assist initially. However, As your knee range of motion and strength improves, this will become easier and require less modification!

• You will probably need to go up/downstairs one leg at a time. It is easiest to lift yourself with the “good,” non-operated leg and down with the “bad,” operated leg first.
• You will also likely need to use a rail or a cane/crutches in order to go up and down stairs safely and may require a helper for safety.

Eventually, as your knee heals and your strength and range of motion improves, you should be able to go up and down stairs reciprocally with one foot after the other.

Setting personal goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, and have a timeline is an important part of your recovery journey.  Talk to your PT about your wishes and desires about returning to previous activity. Depending on your fitness level and goals, you should be able to return to most of your activities within six months. It is possible and important to be active to get back to the things you love. Download the OneStep digital physical therapy app to get started today.