Skip to main content

Recovery from knee surgery

Most people can’t wait to get back to normal activities following their knee replacement surgery. Rehabilitation is an important process and should never be rushed, and your physiotherapist and consultant will assess your progress and advise you at each stage of your recovery.

Unfortunately high impact activities like running and contact sports such as rugby or martial arts are not advised for anyone who has undergone knee replacement surgery due to the increased risk of failure of the new joint and further injury. But there are certain sports and physical activities that are beneficial. NB: It’s important to remember that everyone’s recovery from knee replacement surgery is different, so always listen to your physiotherapist or consultant who will understand your unique clinical needs.


Walking is one of the best forms of exercise to engage in following a knee operation and is a vital part of recovery from day one. At first you will be walking with the aid of a frame, crutches or sticks and progress will be slow but as your recovery progresses you will eventually be walking unaided. It’s important to walk every day and aim to steadily increase the duration and distance. Always listen to your body and rest as required.


Because swimming is not a weight bearing form of exercise it is suitable following knee replacement surgery. However you shouldn’t begin swimming until 3 months after surgery. As always start out slowly and take particular care with breast stroke. Make sure whatever stroke you’re doing it feels comfortable and ensure your movements are careful and controlled.


This is a popular sport to engage in after knee replacement surgery because it is low impact. Cycling also engages and strengthens all the major leg muscles including the quadriceps as well as moving the knee through a full range of motion. At first it’s important to begin on a stationary and stable exercise bike to build up strength and endurance before cycling on the roads.


As long as your surgeon or physiotherapist believes you are sufficiently recovered from knee replacement surgery you can play golf. Because much of the sport involves upper body work and walking it doesn’t put too much strain on the knee but as always take things easy by starting out on the driving range first and then building up to a full game.


Sports or activities that put excessive pressure or torque on the knee are advised against following knee replacement surgery, which means that fast paced or strenuous dancing may be unsuitable. However in general dancing classes such as ballroom dancing are fine and help build strength and flexibility in the knee. These five activities are all suitable to try following your knee replacement surgery once your health professional agrees. And of course listen to your body, if you try one of these activities and find it causes undue pain and discomfort stop and discuss with your physiotherapist or consultant.

The Consultant's view

Physiotherapist at the Clementine Churchill Hospital, Arti Upadhyay loves her job. She says that her career highlight is “every patient who has smiled and gave me a tight hug showing their gratitude.” Arti enjoys being able to help and work with people who want to help themselves to improve their quality of life.

Suitable exercise, if done correctly, can help to reduce pain. Speak to your GP/Physiotherapist first. There are special questions that you will be asked by any of these professionals that lead us to determine whether the pain requires physiotherapy or conservative treatment or any interventions. Exercises are usually tailor made depending upon the presentation of the symptoms and also depending upon the assessment finding. Normally, exercise needs to be prescribed as not all exercises suit everyone.

If while exercising if you experience more pain, you should stop and consult your physiotherapist, however do remember some ache following an exercise session is normal. We call it DOMS (delayed onset muscles soreness) and it usually subsides within 12-24 hours.

In general, musculoskeletal (muscles and joints) exercise will help improve circulation will improve joint movement and will strengthen the muscles and keep the body supple. Special exercises can help improve balance as well as reaction time; it too helps building the confidence of people to move. Everybody has their own capacity of how much and what exercise they can tolerate. It’s always important to start gradually and progress slowly. Too fast, too soon, often leads to injury rather than benefit.

Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience and is unique to every individual. Depending upon the cause, understanding the pain helps, managing it with proper medication, local application of ointments, doing regular tailor made exercises prescribed by physiotherapist after a thorough assessment and gradually increasing the fitness and overall well-being can all help.

Supports like bespoke braces or corsets can help support the weak part of the body and can increase ease, however supporting or bracing should only be done for required amount of length of time and not for ever, unless this is strictly indicated.

Following thorough assessment, physiotherapy can help guide and plan further treatment. We use the physical means and by directing people for corrective movements and safer techniques, it aids in to quality of life to those suffering. We believe in our patients using mindfulness and believe in empowering people for their management of the symptoms and improving quality of life. There are certain symptoms we refer to as ‘red flags’ and on assessment, if any of these are present your assessing physiotherapist will refer you for urgent surgical intervention.