Returning to Sports after Knee Replacement

It is estimated that the number of knee replacement surgeries in the United States will increase 673% from 2005 to 2030.  A large portion of these surgeries are being performed on people under 60 years old.  Also, people are living longer than before and expecting to stay as active as possible up to and after retiring.  Many people desire to return to high level activities and sports such as golf, hiking, jogging, or tennis.  Returning to sports after knee replacement surgery is a common and worthy goal that can be achieved.  This article highlights realistic expectations and timeframes for returning to your favorite sport.

Health Benefits of Physical Activity and Sports after Knee Replacement

knee arthritis

Knee replacement surgery has an unquestionable positive impact on your health and fitness.  This is because decreased pain and improved function following surgery allows you to resume previously restricted physical activities.  In fact, research proves the risk for serious cardiovascular events is reduced by 12.4 % after hip or knee replacement surgery.  So undergoing a knee replacement not only reduces your knee pain, it also decreases your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Can I Play Sports after My Knee Replacement?

Research shows you are extremely likely to return to low impact activities after your knee replacement.  The majority of people (94%) will safely return to walking, biking, swimming, dancing, and playing golf.  People hoping to return to moderate impact activities do so with a success rate of 64%.  This includes sports such as bowling, skiing, hiking, and doubles tennis.  Those who desire returning to higher impact sports do so at a lower rate (43%).  This includes activities such as softball, basketball, jogging, and singles tennis.

aerobic exercise back pain

Several factors will increase or decrease your chances of returning to sports.  People who are overweight or obese are less likely to return to any sport.  Younger people (< 70 years old) are more likely to return to their favorite sport.  Also, research shows men are slightly more likely to return to sports after their surgery.  Women, don’t let this discourage you!

When Can I Get Back to Playing Sports?

Many people we rehabilitate desire returning to golf after their knee replacement.  As long as there are no post-surgical complications, everyone is expected to return to playing golf within one year of their surgery.  Some people (13%) may return as soon as 12 weeks after surgery.  Most people (44%) resume playing a full round of golf between 4 to 6 months after surgery.

Golf exercises

The average time to return to other low impact sports (biking, swimming, and dancing) is similar to golf.  Moderate impact activities (doubles tennis, bowling, and hiking) are resumed between 3 to 4 months after surgery.  In most cases, people looking to resume high impact activities (singles tennis, softball, and jogging) do so no sooner than 6 months after surgery.

During jogging, loads 5 to 10 times your body weight are imparted through the artificial knee joint.  Not all joint replacements are designed to withstand these forces.  Studies show higher wear of the artificial joint surface in people who run after knee replacement.  However, there is no evidence that running increases your risk of undergoing another operation.

Final Thoughts on Sports after Your Knee Replacement

Discouragement from your surgeon, mainly to high impact sports, may be a barrier for you.  Surgeons usually approach these recommendations on a case by case basis.  We recommend you discuss your situation with your surgeon. The pros and cons of returning to sports should be weighed.  Pain, weakness and a loss of confidence are other reasons why you may not return to your favorite sport.  Your physical therapist can help in these cases.  It is important to keep an open communication with your therapist.  This includes shared decision making about your goals and reasonable expectations. If you would like help returning to your sport after your knee replacement surgery, give us a call.


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