What To Expect After Knee Replacement Surgery

Knee replacement

Knee replacement surgery is a popular procedure for older adults. While common, this can be a debilitating surgery, and folks should know what to expect as they begin the healing process. Having a recovery and rehabilitation plan can help a patient leave the hospital sooner and regain mobility more quickly. Helpful additions to your recovery plan, like a medical alert system, can provide a sense of comfort and security during recovery. Plus, you’ll have the added confidence of independence, whether you are recovering alone or with loved ones.

The Basics of Knee Replacement Surgery

Knee replacement surgery, or knee arthroplasty, helps with restoring function and relieving pain in knee joints. Your orthopedic surgeon will determine whether you need knee replacement surgery by testing your knee’s stability, range of motion, and strength. An X-ray can further illuminate the knee’s damage. 

During the procedure, the surgeon will cut away damaged cartilage and bone from the kneecap, shinbone, and thigh bone. The surgeon will replace what was cut away with an artificial joint, or prosthesis[1]. The artificial joint consists of high-grade plastics, metal alloys, and polymers. Your doctor will decide which surgical technique and artificial joint work best for you based on your age, activity level, weight, overall health, and knee shape and size.

What The First 24 Hours Look Like

Here is a brief overview of the first 24 hours after your surgery:

  • Once you wake up and the anesthesia begins to wear off, you will start to regain feeling in your legs. 
  • Immediately after the surgery, you will wait in a recovery room for approximately one to two hours. 
  • Your care team will use multimodal analgesia to help manage your pain relief. Multimodal analgesia is a pain relief method that uses a combination of medications, including NSAIDs, local anesthetics, alpha-2 agonists, opioids, and acetaminophen, to minimize pain. 
  • In the 24 hours after your surgery, your doctor might have you try to stand and take a few steps if your pain is under control. You will use the assistance of a walker or physical therapist to stand and walk. 
  • Standing up and allowing your knee to bear some weight is actually beneficial for your recovery process and can help you recover faster. 
  • Some insurance companies cover the use of a Continuous Passive Motion (CPM) Machine. A CPM machine slowly straightens and bends the recovering leg as you lie on your back. You can use a CPM machine for up to 8 hours per day. A CPM machine is a wonderful potential addition to your recovery plan. It is possible that a CPM machine can increase your range of motion and possibly get you home from the hospital faster.
  • You will work with a physical therapist on knee strengthening and mobility exercises, and an occupational therapist to figure out the best way to bathe, use the toilet, and dress. 
  • Typically, patients spend two to three days in the hospital after knee replacement surgery.

Developing a Recovery Plan

As you plan for your knee replacement surgery, take some time to put together a recovery plan. Creating a recovery and rehabilitation plan can help you:

  • Rebuild your knee’s strength and range of motion faster.
  • Prevent complications.
  • Return to living independently more quickly.
  • Discharge from the hospital sooner.

Not sure where to start? When developing a recovery plan, you should consider a few different factors:

  • Location. Will you recover at home, or in a short-term care facility? If you plan to recover at home, make it an easier transition with some pre-surgery preparations.
  • Recovery timeline. Each patient’s recovery timeline is different. Chat with your care team before your surgery to figure out your approximate timeline and make necessary adjustments in your personal and professional life.
  • Exercises. Find out what exercises your doctor might recommend. Understanding these exercises could make your recovery regimen easier. 
  • Supplemental tools. Simple additions to your recovery plan, such as a medical alert system, can make the process feel a little easier.

Flesh out the fine details of your recovery plan using the guide below. 


Part of your recovery and rehabilitation plan includes preparing your home before the surgery. You can make your return home easier by doing the following:

  • Get rid of loose cords and rugs. 
  • Make sure stairway handrails are secure.
  • Put a stable chair with firm cushions and a footstool in your living room. 
  • Consider temporarily moving your bedroom and other necessary living areas onto the first floor for easier access.
  • Install a raised toilet seat[2]
  • Install a shower chair or bench.
  • Install handrails in the shower/bath and near the toilet.

Several of these at-home recovery changes help prevent falls even when you are not in recovery from a major surgery. Though you will install handrails and other helpful additions for your recovery, you might find them helpful even once your recovery ends. An In-Home medical alert system can also make you feel safer at home. 

Check in with your care team regarding your at-home recovery arrangements. You might check into a short-term care facility if you live in a multi-level home, do not have someone at home to care for you, or have comorbidities that would impact your recovery. Your insurance might cover your stay at a short-term care facility depending on your policy.

Recovery Timeline

Some patients recover from knee replacement surgery at different rates[3]. People who might have a different recovery timeline include:

  • People who are older, have comorbidities/multi-morbidities, or smoke might have a longer recovery period.
  • People who completed knee-strengthening exercises prior to surgery might recover more quickly.


An integral part of your recovery and rehabilitation plan is exercise. Depending on your activity level, your doctor will likely recommend walking between 20-30 minutes, two to three times per day. Another potential exercise could include slowly climbing the stairs a few times per day.

You will also spend time completing a series of exercises recommended by your doctor. Exercises might differ based on what your care team believes is best for your specific recovery. Examples of these exercises include:

  • Straight leg raises. Lie down with your knee fully straightened. Tighten your thigh muscle and lift your leg. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds, then slowly lower your leg. 
  • Short-arc quads. Lie on your back with legs extended. Place a pillow under your recovering leg. Lift the heel of your recovering leg off the bed and hold for five seconds. 
  • Ankle pumps. In this exercise, you will lie down or sit down with your legs fully extended. Imagine pressing the gas pedal. Press your foot down and forward as though you were pressing the gas pedal. Slowly bring your foot back towards you. 
  • Bed-supported knee bends. Lie on your back with legs extended. Slowly slide your foot toward your buttocks. Keep your heel on the bed as you bend your knee. You should hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds, then slowly extend your leg again.
  • Knee straightening exercises. Lie on your back with legs extended. Rest your foot on a rolled towel so that your heel does not touch the bed. Engage your thigh muscles and try to straighten out your knee. The goal is to touch the back of your knee to the bed. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds, then slowly relax your leg.

Supplemental Tools

As you create a recovery and rehabilitation plan with your care team, you should consider any tools that can help aid your recovery process. A reacher allows you to take off socks, put on pants, and grab things off the floor. A shower sponge that has a long handle helps you wash hard-to-reach places. 

A medical alert system is another helpful addition to your recovery plan. This convenient and budget-friendly tool may boost your confidence during recovery and help you stay safe as you navigate life post-surgery. 

Medical Alert Systems for Knee Replacement Surgery Recovery 

You might find fall detection technology helpful during your recovery[4]. Many Alert1 medical alert systems come with fall detection technology, which means the alert system will sense if you fall and place an automatic call to a 24/7 Command Center. Fall detection is great if you plan on being alone for any part of your recovery. You and your loved ones can rest assured that you’ll connect with emergency services no matter what.

Your recovery timeline is not set in stone, and a medical alert system is a good way to stay safe during this time. If you fall while trying to navigate your home, you can press a button to get in contact with a 24/7 Command Center. A trained and certified agent will answer your call and stay on the line until further help arrives. 

Potential medical alert system options for your recovery plan include:

You might have already started planning for post-recovery life as an active senior. In that case, you might consider an On-the-Go Wrist Watch Medical Alert + GPS + Pedometer. A medical alert system can fit into every part of your recovery plan, from the time you leave the hospital until after you are fully back on your feet.









[1] Luo, Yong et al. 2013. Application of biomedical-grade titanium alloys in trabecular bone and artificial joints. Biomaterials and Medical Tribology. Application of biomedical-grade titanium alloys in trabecular bone and artificial joints.

[2] Brown, Jeremy. 2020, Aug 21. Do You Need a Raised Toilet Seat After Knee Replacement? ToiletReview.com. Do You Need a Raised Toilet Seat After Knee Replacement.

[3] Greengard, Samuel. 2020, Mar. 31. Recovery Timeline for TKR: Rehabilitation Stages and Physical Therapy. Healthline.com. Recovery Timeline for TKR: Rehabilitation Stages and Physical Therapy.

[4] Hill, Keith D., et al. December 2016. Falls in people prior to undergoing total hip or total knee replacement surgery: Frequency and associated factors. Journal of Clinical Gerontology and Geriatrics. Falls in people prior to undergoing total hip or total knee replacement surgery: Frequency and associated factors.