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Movements and Activities to Avoid after Knee Replacement Surgery

May 13, 2022
A woman jumps in a cross-training gym

After the initial physical therapy and rehabilitation services that follow knee replacement surgery, patients may have questions about their activities and movements going forward. They may ask themselves questions such as:

  • How much is too much exercise?
  • When can I start playing tennis again?
  • How long will it take me to feel normal again?

The orthopedics team at Richmond University Medical Center on Staten Island, NY, shares information and advice about what not to do after knee replacement surgery.

Exercise Is Encouraged

Here is where it gets tricky. Full recovery from knee replacement surgery can take six months to one year. During that time, you gradually will recover more strength and flexibility, but you must be careful as you go along. Keep doing the exercises prescribed by your physical therapy team.

Initially, you will use crutches or a cane to walk, get in and out of cars or chairs, and negotiate stairways. Eventually, your physician will allow you to quit using these. Be sure to wear supportive, nonskid, comfortable shoes whenever you are mobile and especially when you are exercising. And, of course, you must stay on a healthy diet, get plenty of vitamins and minerals, and make sure to get enough sleep. You may find that you need to elevate the leg on which you had surgery and keep icing it for swelling and pain relief for several months.

Once you start exercising or getting back to an exercise routine, be aware of any discomfort. If the knee is stable during the activity and it is not painful, that is a good sign. However, there are limitations to the materials that make up the prosthetic joint, and even as you rebuild your strength, there are activities and movements to avoid after knee replacement surgery. Check with your medical team before resuming most sports activities. Running and jumping generally are discouraged because they cause more damage to the artificial joint.

Here are some of the low-impact exercise activities you may slowly resume:

  • Swimming
  • Biking
  • Walking
  • Golf
  • Table Tennis
  • Calisthenics
  • Elliptical
  • Stationary ski machines
  • Bowling
  • Gardening
  • Square or ballroom dancing
  • Tennis doubles

These exercise activities are considered riskier:

  • Downhill skiing
  • Scuba diving
  • In-line skating
  • Softball
  • Volleyball
  • Speed walking
  • Horseback riding
  • Hunting
  • Low impact aerobics

Sports activities that generally are prohibited include:

  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Football
  • Hockey
  • Soccer
  • Gymnastics
  • Jogging
  • Rock climbing
  • Hang gliding
  • Parachuting
  • High-impact aerobics
  • Skateboarding
  • Rollerblading
  • Surfing

What Not to Do after Knee Replacement Surgery

Always consult with your orthopedic physician and team before you start any new activities. Likewise, contact them if an activity or movement causes you to be uncomfortable, swell, or experience increased pain. After knee replacement surgery, you should be able to move and exercise without the kind of pain you experienced before the surgery. But some actions might delay your healing or put too much stress on the knee replacement.

As you recover, here is what not to do after knee replacement surgery:

  • Do not put a pillow under the new knee joint – it is better to lie flat.
  • Do not walk onto slippery surfaces.
  • Do not sit too long in chairs or cars.
  • Do not lift or bear too much weight.
  • Do not pivot. Instead, take small steps when turning.
  • Do not run or jump.
  • Do not play contact sports.
  • Do not kneel if it causes pain.
  • Do not sit too low on chairs or in cars.
  • Do not drive, until your physician approves.
  • Do not fly until you have your physician’s green light.

Athletics and Artificial Joints

Most patients pursue knee replacement surgery to improve their quality of life. They want relief from pain, stiffness, and immobility. However, athletes and younger patients may desire to maintain or even go beyond the activity level they enjoyed before the deterioration of the knee joint. The risk to the prosthetic joint must be weighed in these circumstances.

With current technology, these devices last 15 to 20 years, in general. More activity and exercise that intensifies the wear on the knee replacement, such as running, jumping, or collisions, may shorten the period that the joint is usable. And if it is damaged or if there is additional trauma, revision knee replacement surgery may be required. If both the patient and their physician discuss and understand the risks, the patient may go ahead with their athletic activities. This might include an evaluation of the patient’s overall health for potential future surgical procedures.

Do you have questions about knee replacement surgery? If you want to find out more about what not to do after knee replacement surgery, the orthopedics team at Richmond University Medical Center can help. Contact us today.