If you’re an avid tennis player facing knee replacement surgery, you may be wondering if you’ll ever be able to return to the courts after your operation. As someone who has gone through knee replacement myself, I can tell you that with time, dedication, and smart training, it is absolutely possible to play tennis again after knee replacement surgery. In this article, I’ll share my personal experience and tips for easing back into tennis after a total knee replacement.
After suffering from severe osteoarthritis in my right knee for years, I finally had a total knee replacement about 8 months ago. As an active 50-year-old who plays tennis 4 times a week, continuing with my favorite sport after surgery was a major concern. I won’t lie – the recovery was pretty brutal initially. Those first few weeks of physical therapy to regain range of motion were painful and frustrating. But by focusing on strength and flexibility and taking it slow, I was eventually able to return to the courts.
Can You Play Tennis After Knee Replacement?
Yes, you can return to playing tennis after a knee replacement, but you’ll need to take a gradual approach. It’s recommended to wait at least 3-6 months after surgery before hitting the courts again. Ease back into play slowly and follow any precautions from your doctor, like wearing a knee brace and starting on softer court surfaces. With time and commitment to rehab, it’s possible to eventually regain your tennis abilities after a knee replacement! The key is listening to your body and not rushing your return. Here’s what my recovery timeline looked like:
Recovery Timeline After Knee Replacement Surgery
The first couple months after knee replacement surgery are all about letting your joint heal while slowly rebuilding strength and mobility. Don’t push yourself too hard in these early stages or try to rush your recovery. Take it from me, that will only lead to setbacks or possibly re-injury. Patience and listening to your surgeon and physical therapist are key.
When Can You Start Physical Therapy?
Most patients can begin light physical therapy within 1-2 days after their knee replacement operation. The initial focus is on bending and extending your knee to regain range of motion. Your physical therapist will also start you on some gentle strengthening exercises for your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles. Make sure to communicate if you are experiencing significant pain or limitations so your therapist can adjust the exercises accordingly.
In the hospital and early on at home, you’ll rely on a walker or crutches to get around. It’s incredibly frustrating to lose your mobility and independence after surgery, but those devices are there for good reason – to avoid falling and protect your new joint as you recover strength.
When Can You Return to Light Activity?
After around 2-4 weeks, your physical therapist will likely clear you for some light walking, stationary biking, or swimming. The key is starting with low-impact activities that gradually increase your endurance and cardiovascular fitness without overstressing your new knee. Listen to your body closely and stop if you feel any unusual pain. Pain during light exercise could be a sign you are pushing too hard.
Around 4 weeks post-op, I was able to walk short distances without any support which was a big milestone for me. My surgeon recommended continuing to avoid high-impact activities like jogging or tennis for at least another month to allow more time to heal. It’s frustrating, but so important to avoid rushing things at this delicate stage.
When Can You Return to Tennis?
So when can you realistically expect to play tennis again after a total knee replacement? From what I have been told by other patients and surgeons, doubles tennis is sometimes possible around 8-12 weeks after surgery for those with an uncomplicated recovery. However, it can take 3-6 months before your knee feels ready for more intense singles tennis involving sprinting, quick changes of direction, and stop-and-go movements.
I was able to play doubles again about 10 weeks after my knee replacement, but singles took closer to 5 months before it felt comfortable. Everyone heals differently, so don’t get discouraged if your timeline is longer. Work closely with your surgeon to determine appropriate activity timelines tailored to your individual progress. Returning too soon could damage the implant components or cause other injuries.
Easing Back Into Tennis After Knee Replacement
When you do finally get the green light to play tennis again, start very slow and listen to any pain or discomfort in your knee. It will take time to get your stamina and form back. Be smart about your return approach to avoid setbacks. Here are some tips:
Start with Light Rallies
In your first few tennis sessions back, stick to gentle volleys and groundstrokes. Avoid serves or intense running initially. Rally cooperatively with a partner or instructor who understands your physical limitations. Focus on making solid contact with the ball to regain your confidence and swing timing.
Prioritize Technique Over Power
You may feel tempted to swing away with full power that first time back, but control is actually more important at this stage. Focus on mastering the proper technical elements like footwork, balance, and stroke mechanics. Regaining your form and finesse should be the priority, not whacking the ball hard.
Wear Proper Footwear and Equipment
Cushioned performance shoes are essential after knee replacement to provide shock absorption and reduce load on your joints. For added support, an off-the-shelf or custom knee brace can help stabilize your joint without restricting mobility. Also consider using softer, less pressurized balls until you build back up your strength and tolerance.
Related Article: How To Stop Worrying About Your Tennis Serve?
Play on Soft Courts
Red clay or grass tennis courts provide more give than hard courts, lowering impact on knees, ankles, and hips. If possible, start off playing on soft surfaces before progressing to harder ones. Hard courts require the most strength, stability and conditioning which takes time to redevelop after surgery.
Tape or Brace the Knee
Light compressive taping or an adjustable knee brace can support your joint during play by improving proprioception and preventing hyperextension or excessive rotation. but avoid taping too tightly since that can restrict blood flow and lead to swelling. Work with a physical therapist or athletic trainer on proper taping techniques.
Take Frequent Breaks
Avoid overdoing it by taking adequate rest periods between sets or rallies to stretch, rehydrate, and monitor your pain levels. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of play over multiple sessions. Know when to call it a day if your knee starts aching or feels unstable. Pushing beyond your limits too soon can impede healing.
Long-Term Precautions for Tennis After Knee Replacement
Even after you’ve made a successful return to the courts, certain precautions should be continued long-term to preserve your new knee joint:
Maintain Muscle Strength and Flexibility
Staying limber and keeping the quads, hamstrings, calves and core strong will help support your knee joint and prevent injuries. Continue exercises learned in physical therapy and make stretching a regular habit. Yoga, Pilates, and balance training are great low-impact options.
Use Proper Technique
Keep focusing on footwork and mechanics to reduce excessive load on your replaced knee. Small technique adjustments like maintaining a slight bend in the knees during groundstrokes or landing softly after serves can make a big difference. Have a coach periodically evaluate your form.
Listen to your body and take a break if your knee is sore or swollen after playing. Cross-train with cycling, swimming or strength training to stay active while giving your knee a chance to recover. Varying your workouts prevents overstressing the joint.
Wear a Knee Sleeve
Compression knee sleeves provide warmth, improve circulation, and offer joint stability during play. Look for moisture-wicking materials to avoid irritation and inflammation from sweat buildup inside the sleeve. Remove immediately after playing to avoid irritation.
Consider Tennis Lessons or Clinic
Working with a coach can help perfect your form in a controlled setting and provide modifications to avoid movements that could re-injure your knee. They can also analyze your game and advise smarter tactics and shot selection to reduce strain.
Know When to Rest
If your knee pain persists more than 1-2 days after playing or causes limping, take some time off for a full recovery. Ignoring your symptoms and trying to “play through the pain” will only make matters worse. Tennis will still be there when your knee feels better!
How long should I wait to play tennis after a knee replacement?
It’s best to wait at least 3 months after surgery before returning to tennis, and up to 6 months for more competitive play as your knee adapts. Every patient heals differently though, so discuss timelines with your surgeon.
What are the benefits of playing tennis after a knee replacement?
Tennis improves strength, mobility and cardiovascular fitness, helping you maintain your new knee. The low-impact nature is ideal exercise after surgery as long as you ease back into play slowly.
Are there any special precautions I should take when playing tennis after a knee replacement?
Wear cushioned shoes, brace your knee for stability, start on soft courts initially, and avoid overdoing it too soon after surgery. Proper technique is also crucial to avoid excessive impact.
How will my tennis game be affected by a knee replacement?
After rehab and training, you can return to tennis but it may take up to a year to regain your full strength, speed and shot precision. Small technique adjustments can help you adapt.
What type of knee replacement is best for playing tennis afterwards?
Many patients prefer a high-flexion knee design to accommodate the bending required in sports like tennis without risking joint dislocation. Discuss options with your surgeon.
Should I take any special precautions with my new knee when not playing tennis?
Always warm up pre-play, ice after, wear a brace for other activities, maintain strength and flexibility, and avoid high-impact motions like jumping to preserve your knee joint.
My Advice for Returning to Tennis After Knee Replacement
Based on my first-hand experience, I highly recommend taking a gradual approach and being conservative with your activity timelines when coming back to tennis after knee replacement surgery. It’s so tempting to rush your recovery, but impatience can quickly backfire and cause setbacks. Keep communication open with your medical team, doing regular check-ins on your progress.
Don’t feel embarrassed if things take longer than expected – every patient’s experience is different. With commitment to your rehab and smart training, it is possible to eventually regain your pre-surgery tennis skills. Just celebrate each small milestone and take it one day at a time. I wish you the very best in your knee replacement recovery journey! You’ve got this.
- What Is An Ace In Tennis?
- How Long Do Tennis Matches Typically Last?
- Should I Play 3.5 or 4.0 Tennis?
James Locus is a staff writer at Tennis Make More, a tennis education platform. He’s also the founder and editor of TennisMakeMove.com, a website dedicated to tennis instruction and tennis equipment reviews. He’s also an experienced tennis coach and a certified tennis instructor.