Staying Active: Exercise and Recreation after a TKR

Danh Ngo"Staying Active" Division, Exercise Tips, Knee Pain

If you’ve had a total knee replacement, you might be worried about missing out on all of your favorite sports and activities. If you’re someone that likes to stay active, it might feel like you’re suddenly “grounded”.

Fortunately, you don’t have to feel that way.

There are many active physical sports and activities that you can still participate in, even if it means making a few alterations for your physical limitations. Some of them can help with rehabilitation and keeping your knees healthy!

If you want to know all about exercise and recreation after a total knee replacement, keep reading.

Initial Recovery Period

Immediately after a total knee replacement, you’ll probably be feeling pretty sore and unwilling to do a whole lot of movement. The first few days are just for recovery, so you should keep movements simple and essential. 

You’ll likely be in the hospital during this time, so it’s important to listen to the guidelines and instructions set up by your doctors and physical therapists. They’re there to ensure that you’re able to reach mobility again. It might be frustrating to limit yourself, but the limitations are there to protect you.

This time period will be focused on readjusting to walking short distances and bending your knee to a 90 degree angle. After this, you can begin some light exercises.

Keep it Low-Impact

After a total knee replacement, you’re going to want to focus on exercises that are low-impact. Low-impact exercises are those that are easy on your joints. Typically, you want to stick with fluid motions and no real heavy pressure on the joint in question. 

You’re going to want to avoid any jumping (or heavy landing) or running, but many popular recreational activities are already low-impact and wonderful for the heart, lungs, and body as a whole. They’re also a lot of fun!

Exercises to Try

There are plenty of exercises that are still completely doable after a total knee replacement. Don’t push yourself too hard, but feel free to test out any of these low-resistance exercises after healing.


Walking is probably a good start. While running isn’t recommended after a total knee replacement (it’s hard on the joints as-is), walking and hiking might be a good substitute. You can track your progress to see your recovery and improvement over time.

Elliptical Machines

A step up from walking, elliptical machines are also easy on the knees. If you miss the effort from the run, try one of these at the gym. They take the pressure off of the joints to make your exercise lower-impact.


Swimming is great exercise and it’s incredibly easy on the joints. There’s no impact in the water, and you can still work your lungs and muscles while floating freely. You can swim once you’re healed from you’re total knee replacement.

Light Aerobics

An aerobics class (or even better, a water aerobics class) is a great way to get back to exercise after the knee replacement. Remember, you want to stay as low-impact as possible, so you might have to alter some movements to suit your new knee. That said, it’s a great way to get your heart moving and pumping.


Cycling machines, or a real bicycle, are great options for exercise after a knee surgery. You can work your legs a little bit and get that cardio up to keep yourself in tip-top shape. Keep to a flat and smooth surface and work up to long distances over time. Always start small.

Light Weightlifting

After a knee surgery, you want to avoid any heavy strains on the knees. While some of your upper body exercises may be unchanged, avoid high-resistance weightlifting in the lower body. You want to keep your muscles strong and toned, but some exercises are especially strenuous on the knees, and those are best avoided (or done with light weights with a trainer).

Sports and Activities to Try

Many sports and activities are social, and it’s important to keep your physical and social life active. While some sports might be off the table, there are plenty that can keep you occupied.


Golf is very easy on the knees, and can be a lot of fun! You’ll be spending a lot of time walking around the golf course to keep those legs active, but if you get worn out, there’s a golf cart available. It’s also incredibly social despite being a more solitary sport.


Many forms of dancing are low-impact enough to perform after a knee replacement. Dancing is a great way to get some cardio in and to work on your coordination. You want to avoid too much twisting or jumping, but otherwise you’re in the clear to learn some new moves.


Bowling is very easy on the knees, and is a great social game. Joining a bowling league could be the next thing on your to-do list. If you start to feel strain on your knees, consider switching to a lighter ball until you feel strong enough to carry on as normal.

Are You Ready to Get Moving?

A total knee replacement might seem like a large and annoying setback, but it doesn’t mean that your life in fitness is over. It just means you need to alter the way that you play and work out to suit your new body. Humans are great at adaptation, and there are plenty of options to help you do just that.

Keeping your exercises low-impact and your sports and activities light will keep you healthy and active after your total knee replacement.

For more information on recovery after an injury, check out our site. We specialize in rehabilitation after injury, and we want to get you back on your feet.


Danh Ngo PT, DPT, OCS, SCS

Doctor of Physical Therapy

Board Certified Specialist in Orthopedic and Sports Medicine

Mind Body Health Results Coach