Healing: how long does it take?


Nurse Director
Jun 8, 2007
The North
United Kingdom United Kingdom
How Long Does it Take to Recover from Joint Replacement Surgery?

Most patients undergoing total hip/knee replacement surgery want to know when they'll be able to return to their normal life. "Recovery time" is a common question posed to specialists and non-specialists alike. There are many factors that can contribute to recovery time, but typically a patient's recovery journey is unique to them. To be more specific, however, we can examine the difference between "short-term recovery" and "long-term recovery".

Short-term recovery in the first 12 or so weeks, involves the early stages of recovery, such as the ability to get out of the hospital bed and be discharged from the hospital.

On days 1 or 2, most patients are given a walker to stabilize them or may even be discharged home.

Short-term recovery also involves getting off major pain killers and having a full night's sleep without pills. Once a patient no longer needs walking aids and can walk around the house without pain - in addition to being able to walk two blocks or around the house without pain or resting - all of these are considered signs of short-term recovery but can take anything between 6 or even 16 weeks.

Long-term recovery involves the complete healing of surgical wounds and internal soft tissues. When a patient can return to work and the activities of daily living, they are on the way to achieving the full term of recovery. Another indicator is when the patient finally feels normal again.

The average long-term recovery for joint replacement patients is approximately 6 months although it can take up to a year to be totally complete.

Dr. Ian C. Clarke, medical researcher and founder of Peterson Tribology Laboratory for joint replacement at Loma Linda University, writes, "Our surgeons consider that patients have 'recovered' when their current status has improved much beyond their arthritic pre-op pain level and dysfunction."

Recovery and energy
There are a number of contributing factors that influence recovery time. A positive attitude can be everything. However, it should be borne in mind that energy levels are going to be an issue for some weeks and even months after surgery. It's so easy to suppose that once you've got going again and ditched the aids and the pain meds, you're back to normal and should get on with life.

But healing goes on for many months, not only the superficial but the deep tissues too. It all takes energy so you shouldn't be surprised if you still feel exhausted after a brief day's work or a even a short shopping trip. That might even be one of the last things to 'get back to normal'!

Having access to information about hip/knee replacement surgery and a strong support network is also important to recovery.

Adequate preparation for the recovery period after surgery will increase the chances of a smoother, quicker recovery. Preparing the home for recovery by removing slip mats and items that the patient can trip on plus organizing medical supplies and aids. If the patient plans to have a person to assist them during the day, it is better to make arrangements ahead of time.

Medical support relating to pain management is also recommended. So many patients have phobias about getting addicted to pain meds. They can ruin their recovery, or at least make it a very miserable experience, by not taking the medication when they should. The impact of pain management on recovery cannot be emphasized enough.
Joint replacement patients should know that they can approach their GP or a Pain Management Clinic as well as their orthopaedic surgeon for help in pain management.

Sadly, the recent scares about opioid addiction has made it difficult and even impossible to get adequate pain medication but you shouldn't let this deter you. There are other options which I can advise if you want to ask.

Generally speaking, hip replacement patients do recover more quickly than knee replacement patients, for example. It should be noted, however, that recovery time for either can differ vastly from patient to patient.
There's more to closing an incision than staples. Surgeons refer to this as 'closing in layers'.

Closed with a strong dissolvable suture such as Dexon or Vicryl:
the joint capsule
the deep layers of muscles
the superficial muscle layers
the tough covering of the muscles called the tensor fascia lata​

Closed with a thin dissolvable suture:
the fat
the subcuticular layer - a 1mm layer just between the fat and the skin​

Closed with staples or steristrips:
the skin​

Protruding stitch ends:
Occasionally some deep stitches do cause problems, especially if the ends aren't properly buried. They will then protrude through the skin and hold it open, much like the drains did.​

There is a small potential for infection but it is unlikely to penetrate more than a few mm into the wound, certainly not as deep as the joint. Sometimes, this suture material has to be removed in order to allow the wound to complete its healing.

Initial treatment until you can get to a doctor is to keep the area clean and dry and cover the opening with a clean, preferable sterile, dressing. Bathing is okay but don't soak too long or use bubble bath etc. until you've checked with the surgeon or doctor.

Get more information on this topic here Closing surgical wounds: how is it done?
Further information and guidance regarding the time period of recovery

These are just a graphic representations of the scale of recovery after joint replacement.

It’s not scientifically produced, just to give you a general idea of how the pain and disability is higher in the first few weeks and how it then gradually tapers off over months.

single hip.jpg

single knee.jpg

bilateral hip.jpg

bilateral knee.jpg

BoneSmart #1 Best Blog

Staff online

  • Layla
    Staff member since November 20, 2017
  • Pumpkin
    Staff member since March 26, 2015
  • mendogal
    Staff member since November 10, 2023

Forum statistics

Latest member
Recent bookmarks
Top Bottom