One of the most common questions people ask as they work with their healthcare team to plan joint replacement surgery is just how long it will take to get back to normal daily activities after the procedure. While the answer to that question will vary to some extent from one patient to another, here we'll get into the general details of what the average patient can expect as they work towards getting back to a healthy, active lifestyle after hip or knee replacement surgery.
Joint replacements are serious procedures, and there will be limitations on movement and activity for a certain period of time after surgery. Those limitations will be quite stringent during the first day or two after surgery, when all activity is guided and/or assisted by physical therapists. Typical activity during this time includes range of motion exercise, sitting upright on the edge of the bed, standing with the support of a walker and, in many cases, taking a few steps.
Before hospital discharge—usually between two and four days after joint replacement surgery—patients are expected to progress to the point of being able to get in and out of bed independently, walk with a walker or cane on a level surface, and climb up and down two or three stairs.
Activity will still be quite limited during the first six to eight weeks following hospital discharge—typically to walking, range of motion and strengthening exercises prescribed by therapists, especially during the first three or four weeks. Some patients, with the approval of therapists and/or doctors, may engage in low-impact exercise, such as swimming or riding a stationary bike during this period. Most patients can resume driving between 2 and 8 weeks after surgery, with those who had surgery on the left side generally on the shorter end of that range.
In most cases, patients can resume most typical home and work activities by 12 weeks after joint replacement surgery, as well as low-impact leisure activities like golf, bowling, rowing, bike riding or slow dancing. More strenuous activities, such as doubles tennis or running, for instance, can generally be done after 6 months.
Of course, every patient is different, and progress depends on a long list of factors, including age, general health and fitness, the joint replaced, and the surgical technique used, among others. Among the most important factors in a quick, successful recovery from joint replacement surgery is rehabilitation therapy, which is why patients are advised to continue working with therapists for at least 2 months after surgery. Additionally, patients who enroll in an intensive, inpatient rehabilitation program after hospital discharge are often able to speed their progress towards recovery and rehabilitation, resuming normal activities more quickly than those who spend a few hours a week in outpatient therapy.