In addition to reducing knee arthritis pain, knee replacement surgery helps people live independently and return to the activities they enjoy. Below are answers to common questions people have about returning to normal activities.

See Traditional Knee Replacement vs. Minimally Invasive Knee Replacement

When Can Knee Replacement Patients Drive?

The answer to this question largely depends on which knee was operated on.

  • Patients who had their non-driving legs operated on may return to driving once they can get in and out of a car comfortably and are off any pain medications that impair driving skills.
  • Patient who had their driving legs operated on may drive as soon as 2 weeks after surgery,3 while others may need 6 weeks or longer. To drive, knee replacement patients must:
    • Not be taking any pain medications that impair driving skills
    • Have regained their pre-surgical reflexes and muscle strength. (As rehabilitation progresses, reflexes and muscle strength may be better than pre-surgical levels.)

Research examining knee replacement patients’ ability to drive (e.g. break response time) has yielded varying results and recommendations.4 Therefore, patients and doctors should work together to decide what is reasonable for the individual.

See Total Knee Replacement Surgery Recovery

Handicap parking placard
Obtaining a handicap parking placard for a car requires a doctor’s approval. The specific regulations and paperwork vary from state to state. Patients may ask their doctor if they are eligible for a placard before surgery as well as after.

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When Can Knee Replacement Patients Return to Work?

The first question many knee replacement candidates ask is “If I have this surgery, when can I return to work?” The recovery process is unique to each patient, but experts generally say5 that people with:

  • Sedentary or desk jobs may be able to return to work after 4 or 6 weeks.
  • Manual labor jobs, such as construction and landscaping, typically do not to return to work. The frequent and repetitive pressure on the new knee may cause it to wear out prematurely, requiring a second surgery.
  • Mixed labor jobs, which require frequent standing or occasional bending or lifting (e.g. teachers) may return to work after approximately 3 months.

Prospective patients should talk to their surgeon about returning to work before surgery is scheduled.

See Facts and Considerations for Total Knee Replacement

Can a Knee Replacement Patient Play Sports?

Many patients find that they are more active after their knee replacement. Their old, arthritic knees kept them sedentary, and their new, artificial knees allow them to be more active.

Whether and when a patient can return to a specific sport depends on the patient, the type of knee replacement surgery, the knee prostheses, and the sport. In general:

  • Swimming, cycling, and golfing are safe (after the surgical wound is healed).
  • Jogging and basketball and other sports that are likely to put pressure on the new knee are not safe, as they may cause the prostheses to wear out prematurely.
  • Certain sports, such as doubles tennis, may be played at a relaxed pace.
  • Downhill skiing, skating, and other sports with a risk of falling may be resumed cautiously only by patients who:
    • Were proficient at the sports before surgery
    • Understand the risks

Patients are advised to consult with their surgeons about specific athletic goals.

References

  1. Hernandez VH, Ong AC, Orozco F, Madden AM, Post ZD. When is it safe for patients to drive after right total knee arthroplasty? Poster presented at the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons 2105 Annual Meeting; March 25-27, 2015; Las Vegas, Nevada.
  2. MacLeod K, Lingham A, Chatha H, Lewis J, Parkes A, Grange S, Smitham PJ. "When can I return to driving?": a review of the current literature on returning to driving after lower limb injury or arthroplasty. Bone Joint J. 2013 Mar;95-B(3):290-4. doi: 10.1302/0301-620X.95B3.29540. Review. PubMed PMID: 23450009.
  3. Total Knee Replacement. American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons. http://www.aahks.org/care-for-hips-and-knees/do-i-need-a-joint-replacement/total-knee-replacement/. Accessed December 8, 2015.

Complete Listing of References

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