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What You Should Do and Avoid After Knee Surgery: A Comprehensive Guide

Knee surgery is a significant medical procedure that requires careful post-operative care to ensure a smooth recovery. Whether you’ve undergone a total knee replacement, arthroscopy, or ligament reconstruction, following the right steps post-surgery is crucial for optimal healing. In this blog, we’ll provide a detailed guide on what you should do and avoid after knee surgery to promote recovery and regain strength.

What to Do After Knee Surgery

1. Follow Your Doctor’s Instructions

Your surgeon will provide specific guidelines tailored to your surgery and individual health needs. This may include medications, wound care, and activity levels. Adhering to these instructions is vital for a successful recovery.

2. Manage Pain and Swelling

  • Medications: Take prescribed painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs as directed.
  • Ice Therapy: Apply ice packs to the knee for 15-20 minutes several times a day to reduce swelling.
  • Elevation: Keep your leg elevated above heart level to minimize swelling and discomfort.

3. Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is crucial for restoring knee function. A physical therapist will guide you through exercises to improve mobility, strength, and flexibility. Start with gentle movements and gradually increase intensity as recommended.

4. Use Assistive Devices

  • Crutches or Walkers: Use these devices to support your weight and prevent putting undue stress on your knee.
  • Braces: If prescribed, wear a knee brace to stabilize and protect the joint during healing.

5. Keep the Wound Clean and Dry

Proper wound care prevents infections and promotes healing:

  • Follow your doctor’s instructions for dressing changes.
  • Keep the surgical site clean and dry.
  • Avoid soaking the wound in water until cleared by your surgeon.

6. Maintain a Healthy Diet

A balanced diet rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals supports tissue repair and overall health. Focus on:

  • Protein: Essential for muscle repair.
  • Vitamins A and C: Promote healing and collagen production.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D: Strengthen bones.

7. Stay Hydrated

Adequate hydration is essential for overall health and recovery. Aim for at least 8 glasses of water per day unless otherwise advised by your doctor.

8. Gradually Increase Activity Levels

Start with light activities and gradually increase as your strength and mobility improve. Walking, under the guidance of your physical therapist, helps prevent complications like blood clots and promotes circulation.

9. Monitor for Complications

Be vigilant for signs of complications such as:

  • Infection: Redness, warmth, or drainage at the surgical site.
  • Blood Clots: Swelling, pain, or tenderness in the calf.
  • Excessive Pain: Severe pain not relieved by medication.

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.

What to Avoid After Knee Surgery

1. Avoid Overexertion

Pushing yourself too hard can delay healing and cause setbacks. Avoid high-impact activities, heavy lifting, and strenuous exercises until your doctor approves.

2. Don’t Ignore Pain

Pain is a signal from your body that something may be wrong. If you experience persistent or severe pain, consult your healthcare provider. Ignoring pain can lead to further injury.

3. Avoid Sitting for Long Periods

Prolonged sitting can increase stiffness and swelling. Try to move around or change positions frequently to keep the knee joint flexible and promote circulation.

4. Don’t Skip Physical Therapy Sessions

Consistency is key in physical therapy. Skipping sessions can hinder progress and prolong recovery time. Follow your therapist’s guidance and perform exercises regularly.

5. Avoid Smoking and Alcohol

  • Smoking: Impairs blood flow and delays healing.
  • Alcohol: Can interact with medications and impair judgment, leading to falls or other injuries.

6. Don’t Drive Too Soon

Driving requires knee stability and quick reflexes. Only resume driving when your doctor gives you the green light, typically after you regain sufficient strength and mobility.

7. Avoid Unhealthy Foods

Sugary, fatty, and processed foods can contribute to inflammation and impede recovery. Focus on nutrient-dense foods that support healing and overall health.

8. Don’t Neglect Mental Health

Surgery and recovery can be mentally challenging. Don’t hesitate to seek support from friends, family, or a mental health professional if you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious.

9. Avoid Hot Baths and Pools

Until your wound is fully healed, avoid hot baths, hot tubs, and swimming pools to prevent infection. Follow your doctor’s advice on when it’s safe to immerse your knee in water.

Exercise for a Smooth Recovery

1. Ankle Pumps

  • Purpose: Improves blood circulation and prevents blood clots.
  • How to Do: While lying down, flex your ankle up and down for 1-2 minutes.

2. Quad Sets

  • Purpose: Strengthens the quadriceps muscles.
  • How to Do: Sit or lie down with your leg straight. Tighten your thigh muscles, pressing the back of your knee into the bed or floor. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then relax. Repeat 10-15 times.

3. Heel Slides

  • Purpose: Increases knee flexibility and range of motion.
  • How to Do: Lie on your back with your legs straight. Slide your heel toward your buttocks, bending your knee. Hold for a few seconds, then slide your heel back down. Repeat 10-15 times.

4. Straight Leg Raises

  • Purpose: Strengthens the quadriceps and hip muscles.
  • How to Do: Lie on your back with one leg bent and the other straight. Tighten your thigh muscles and lift the straight leg to the height of the bent knee. Hold for 5 seconds, then lower slowly. Repeat 10-15 times on each leg.

5. Seated Knee Bends

  • Purpose: Enhances knee mobility and range of motion.
  • How to Do: Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Slowly slide your foot back, bending your knee as much as possible. Hold for a few seconds, then slide your foot forward. Repeat 10-15 times.

6. Heel Raises

  • Purpose: Strengthens the calf muscles.
  • How to Do: Stand behind a chair for support. Rise up onto your toes, lifting your heels off the ground. Hold for a few seconds, then lower slowly. Repeat 10-15 times.

7. Hamstring Curls

  • Purpose: Strengthens the hamstring muscles.
  • How to Do: Stand and hold onto a chair for balance. Lift your heel toward your buttocks, bending your knee. Hold for a few seconds, then lower slowly. Repeat 10-15 times on each leg.

8. Hip Abductions

  • Purpose: Strengthens the hip muscles.
  • How to Do: Lie on your side with your legs straight. Lift your top leg up to about 45 degrees, then lower slowly. Repeat 10-15 times on each side.

9. Step-Ups

  • Purpose: Enhances leg strength and stability.
  • How to Do: Use a step or a low platform. Step up with one foot, followed by the other, then step down in the same order. Repeat 10-15 times on each leg.

10. Stationary Cycling

  • Purpose: Improves cardiovascular fitness and knee range of motion.
  • How to Do: Use a stationary bike with low resistance. Start with short sessions and gradually increase the duration as tolerated.

11. Wall Slides

  • Purpose: Strengthens the quadriceps and improves knee mobility.
  • How to Do: Stand with your back against a wall and feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly slide down the wall, bending your knees to a comfortable angle, then slide back up. Repeat 10-15 times.

12. Bridging

  • Purpose: Strengthens the gluteal and hamstring muscles.
  • How to Do: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips toward the ceiling, hold for a few seconds, then lower slowly. Repeat 10-15 times.

Tips for Effective Rehabilitation

  • Consistency: Perform exercises regularly as advised by your physical therapist.
  • Progress Gradually: Increase the intensity and duration of exercises gradually to avoid overexertion.
  • Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to pain and discomfort. If an exercise causes significant pain, stop and consult your therapist.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated during your recovery.
  • Follow Your Therapist’s Guidance: Your physical therapist will provide a personalized exercise plan tailored to your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. How long does it take to recover from knee surgery?

Recovery time varies depending on the type of surgery and individual factors. Generally, it can take several weeks to months. Follow your doctor’s guidelines and attend all follow-up appointments.

2. When can I return to work after knee surgery?

This depends on your job and the extent of your surgery. Desk jobs may allow a quicker return, while physically demanding jobs may require more time. Consult your doctor for personalized advice.

3. Can I exercise after knee surgery?

Yes, but start with gentle exercises as recommended by your physical therapist. Gradually increase intensity and avoid high-impact activities until your doctor approves.

4. What should I do if I experience severe pain or swelling?

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you experience severe pain, swelling, or any signs of complications. Prompt medical attention can prevent further issues.

5. How can I prevent blood clots after knee surgery?

To prevent blood clots, follow your doctor’s instructions on mobility, wear compression stockings if advised, and stay hydrated. Light exercises like ankle pumps can also help.


Recovering from knee surgery requires patience, dedication, and adherence to medical advice. By following the dos and don’ts outlined in this guide, you can promote a smooth and successful recovery. Remember to listen to your body, seek support when needed, and celebrate your progress along the way. With the right approach, you’ll be back on your feet and enjoying your favorite activities in no time.

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