Running does your body good, but should you log the miles after knee replacement surgery?
Here’s the truth. Running is a high-impact exercise. It can take a toll on your body, especially your joints.
That’s why, and for a long time, doctors warned against running after knee surgery as the impact could damage the new joints. This, in turn, made most people reluctant about returning to the sport post TKR.
This article will explain some of the pros and cons of running after knee surgery and share a few tips on staying safe.
Note – I’d love for the record to clearly state that I’m not providing any medical advice, nor have I undergone any type of knee surgery.
This is a topic I have always wanted to write about—since arthritis of the knee runs in my family. So please consult a professional on what to do after any type of joint surgery.
What is Knee Replacement Surgery?
The knees are the largest joint in your body. Unfortunately, this joint is prone to wear and tear that comes with age and use.
One of the most common treatments for compromised knees is knee replacement surgery or TKR.
Knee replacement surgery involves replacing the damaged part of the knee joint with a prosthesis.
The goal of the procedure is to replace damaged joint surfaces in the joint with prosthetic components made of plastic and metal. This, in turn, allows the joint to regain proper function and eventually relieve any knee pain.
Roughly XXX knee replacement surgeries are performed in the US each year alone.
Most patients how to undergo this procedure as a treatment for osteoarthritis. This condition—which consists of age-related joint degeneration—gradually destroys the cartilage between the joint.
Does Running Cause Osteoarthritis?
As I’ve explained in an earlier post, running alone doesn’t cause arthritis. Furthermore, research has found no link between the two.
What’s more, some research suggests that running may actually limit the inflammatory processes that cause joint problems.
The typical knee joint is made to last a lifetime or two. But the joint is compromised, the instability and altered mechanics can lead to progressive wear and tear.
Additional resource – Running with arthritis
When Surgery is The Way?
On the first onset of arthritis, your doctor would first try conservative, non-invasive treatments. These include anti-inflammatory meds, exercises such as walking or stretching, etc.
But once symptoms get worse, going under the knife might be the only option, especially when the joint is worn down to bone-on-bone.
When treated early, the injured tissues, such as the articular cartilage, ACL, and meniscus, can be fixed, restored, and replaced, protecting the joint from further damage.
How long Will A Knee Replacement Last?
There’s no definite answer as it depends on the patient, but all in all, most knee implants can last up to 15 to 20 years for most people.
Can You run After Knee Replacement?
Technically, yes. Most people can run after TKR—provided they’re following their doctor’s advice and recommendations.
It just has to be the right decision.
After thorough consideration, if you decide that the pros of returning to running far out weight the cons, then it’s your call to make.
Just before you lace up your running shoes, make sure to understand the benefits and downsides of running after TKR. Then, you’ll need to take the right course of action after consulting your doctor and running through all the possible scenarios.
Deciding whether to pick up running after knee surgery requires a personalized approach between you and your doctor. First, however, you should know the pros and cons of deciding to run after surgery.
After running through all the possible scenarios, you might decide the pros of returning to running outweigh the cons.
Only a few studies have looked into the impact of high-stress exercises on artificial knees.
And most of these studies are outdated due to leaps in technological leaps in materials and surgical techniques.
This also means that there aren’t many studies examining the impact of exercise after knee replacement. Research is scarce regarding how long and how often you can run, or even if you can see following surgery.
Researchers cannot randomly recruit patients to run after knee surgery and stick to walking—the classical protocol for scientific testing.
Instead, most of the research conducted on the subject is retrospective in which post-surgery patients report on their exercise experience following the procedure.
Most of the guidelines are anecdotal, coming from runners who had the procedure themselves.
So, as a runner, you should consider the lack of science when deciding whether or not to run.
For more on the research, check the following resources:
- Effect of knee arthroplasty on sports participation and activity levels
- Endurance sports after total knee replacement: A biomechanical investigation
- Does hip or knee joint replacement decrease chances to complete an ultra-trail race?
- A randomized trial to compare exercise treatment methods for patients after total knee replacement: protocol paper
- Return to sport post-knee arthroplasty
- Can you run after a knee replacement?
Additional resource – How to start running with your dog
The Factors To Consider
Here are some factors to consider:
Age is important when it comes to returning to running after knee replacement surgery.
The older you’re, your overall health level may bar you from running after knee replacement surgery. Instead, you should find alternative exercises that are more age-appropriate.
Accept The risk
Just like anything else, it’s key to understand that running—or performing any type of weight-bearing exercise—following knee replacement does carry risk.
If you manage to damage the artificial implant or it becomes loose, you’ll have to correct or replace it, which means going under the knife again.
Consult Your Doctor
Still keen on running?
Then discuss this with your doctor to get a better idea of your device and what the wear-testing research has revealed.
Over time, the implants will wear out no matter what you do. So your objective is to keep the damage to a minimum throughout the rest of your life or face “surgery” at some time in the future.
At 55 years old, you could potentially live an extra 20 to 30 years, and it’s a good idea if you won’t have to need another surgery to replace the replacement.
You’re not out options when it comes to improving your cardiovascular fitness.
You could walk or perform other lower impact exercises that will place less load on the new joint and likely add more years to your joint. That’s a good thing if you ask me.
Additional Resource – Here’s how to use KT Tape for runners knee.
Recovering From Knee Surgery
Knee replacement surgery is a serious procedure that takes time to recover from. If you’re planning to run, it might take even more time and hard work following the procedure.
Here’s how typical recovery times:
Three weeks post-surgery
At this stage, you should be able to walk for more than 10 minutes at a time, unassisted. You might be able to walk a bit while assisting your physical therapist.
Six weeks post-surgery
You might be able to start driving again between weeks 4 and 6 if your doctor gives you the green light.
Three months post-surgery
Most physical therapy programs last up to three months. During this period, you should be able to walk for a few blocks. You might also be able to perform exercises such as swimming and cycling.
One year post-surgery
You’ll keep on making progress for a whole year following knee replacement. At this point, your knee should reach its full strength.
Additional resource – Knee brace for knee pain
Can You Run After Knee Replacement Surgery? – Conclusion
As a runner recovering from TKR, you should be in no haste to return to the sport. Instead, you should weigh all the pros and cons to determine if the right things to be doing in the first place.