Imagine you have played sports or engaged in demanding physical exercise for decades. While that activity has certainly benefited your overall health, now it has left you with daily pain from hip or knee arthritis. (Honestly you might not even have to imagine this scenario.) You want to stay active, but your pain limits your ability to perform activities of daily living easily.

Your doctor tells you that your only hope is a knee replacement or hip replacement. The pain relief sounds promising, but you question your function after surgery. Can you play tennis after a hip replacement? Can you run after a knee replacement?

Return to high-impact sports after hip replacement or knee replacement

A review of current scientific literature on joint replacement surgery published in Sports Health suggests that while return to high-impact physical activity is not impossible, it can be very difficult to guarantee or achieve. After surgery, activity levels improve, likely as result of decreased pain. Participation in high-impact sports and exercise, such as tennis, soccer and jogging, drops greatly.

Concerns about high-impact sports after joint replacement

Some of the decrease in sports participation stems from surgeons’ concerns. Many joint replacement surgeons advise patients to refrain from physical activities that could cause the components to wear out faster. In theory, the more repetitive impact on the knee or hip replacement, the greater the wear of the components (especially the polyethylene) and the faster it could ultimately fail.

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Recovery and return to activity knee replacement or hip replacement

Complete recovery after hip or knee replacement takes many months. Arthritis usually causes a gradual loss of strength around the hip or knee. You must regain that muscle strength to perform your desired activities, but it can take months. Patients who undergo hip replacements tend to return to normal faster than those who undergo knee replacements, but achieving full motion, strength and pain relief takes time for everyone.

Also your activity level and health before surgery play a role. If you are more active before surgery, you will probably return to more activities after surgery. Likewise, if you have a lower body mass index (BMI), you will be more likely to return to demanding sports or exercise.

Safe exercise after a knee replacement

Bloomfield MR, Hozack WJ. Total hip and knee replacement in the mature athlete. Sports Health. Published online ahead of print November 20, 2013.