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  • Kate Darne

Recovering after orthopedic surgery

Rehabilitation begins almost immediately after orthopedic surgery. This includes rehab for partial or total joint replacement and orthopedic hip, knee, shoulder, spine, neck or ankle surgery.

Before you're discharged from your surgical facility, your care team will begin rehabilitation to get you up and moving around as quickly and safely as possible.

This usually happens two to four hours after surgery, depending on the patient and type of surgery.

Most orthopedic surgical procedures require some form of physical and/or occupational therapy. Your doctor may prescribe an informal rehabilitation plan that centers on having you walk daily and move the affected area as part of an otherwise normal routine.

If your condition warrants additional support, you may be signed up for in-home therapy with a physical and/or occupational therapist who will visit you at home for one-on-one therapy sessions. Another option is outpatient physical therapy and/or occupational therapy.

The goals of physical and/or occupational therapy may include:

  • Helping you learn to stand and walk again following joint replacement or another type of orthopedic procedure such as hip, knee, foot or ankle, or back surgery.

  • Training your muscles and nerves to work together again.

  • Restoring your strength, balance, mobility and overall range of motion.

  • Learning to use assistive devices such as canes and walkers.

  • Teaching you to adapt the equipment and other items you use on a regular basis.

  • Helping you to perform daily living tasks, such as dressing, bathing, eating, and getting out of bed.

Timeline for Surgery Recovery

Knee Replacement

Most patients are able to care for themselves and resume normal daily activities within 6 weeks and drive within 3 to 6 weeks. It may take 4 to 6 months or up to an entire year to fully recover and realize total benefits of knee replacement surgery.

Hip Replacement

Most patients will be able to resume their normal activities within 6 weeks of surgery. Normally, around this time patients will resume driving as long as they are not taking any prescription pain medications. Within 12 weeks following surgery, many patients will resume their recreational activities, such as talking long walk, cycling, or playing golf. It may take some patients up to 6 months to completely recover following a hip replacement.

Rotator Cuff

Recovery can take 4 to 6 months, depending on the size of the tear and other factors. You may have to wear a sling for 4 to 6 weeks after surgery. Pain is usually managed with medicines. Physical therapy can help you regain the motion and strength of your shoulder

ACL Reconstruction

Successful ACL reconstruction paired with focused rehabilitation can usually restore stability and function to your knee. Within the first few weeks after surgery, you should strive to regain a range of motion equal to that of your opposite knee. Recovery generally takes about nine months.

Laminectomy and Fusion surgery

Recovery after laminectomy and fusion surgery takes at least 3 to 4 months after surgery for bones to heal well, and healing may continue for at least a year. If you had spinal fusion, you will probably be off work for 4 to 6 weeks if you are young and healthy and your job is not very strenuous.

Cervical Neck

Usually, you will have to remain in the hospital for around two days following this surgery. Further recovery will happen over the next four to six weeks, after which you can return to light activities. Full recovery takes around two to three months.


Each ankle injury is different and everybody heals at its own pace, but it will take at least six weeks for your bones to heal. If you've also torn ligaments or tendons, the healing time will be longer. After surgery, you won't be able to move your leg to allow yourself to heal and avoid the risk of re-injury.

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