Expert Q&A: Playing Sports After Knee Replacement

Know the risks from high-impact sports after knee replacement surgery.

Q: Can I safely resume high-impact sports, like soccer or running, if I’ve had knee replacement surgery? What are the risks? 

This is a great question, commonly asked by higher-activity patients considering replacement surgery. The short answer is, while mechanically you could, it’s probably not a great idea and other activities would be better for the long-term health of your replacement.

Knee replacements at their most basic are made of metal and plastic. Think of the plastic component like the tires on a car: If you do burn-outs all day on your tires, they are not going to last as long as if you consistently drove the speed limit. The same principles apply to the parts of a knee replacement. Impact and cutting activities, like running, jumping, soccer or basketball, put much more stress on a knee replacement and may lead to earlier wear of the plastic or loosening of the bond attaching the implant to the bones. Lower impact sports, such as biking, swimming, elliptical, skiing, doubles tennis, hiking or golfing, are going to be much better for the longevity of a replacement.

Additionally, a knee replacement does not have the same sensation and feeling as a native knee. While great for pain relief of arthritis, it will never give the same proprioceptive feedback that is often needed for high-level impact sports. 

With all that said, our techniques, materials and implants continue to evolve and improve. I personally explain what may happen with higher impact activities and let patients decide for themselves what risks they want to assume. If you need to run and are able to return to it, you mechanically can on the replacement. However, you should understand you may require another operation for wear or loosening that otherwise could have been avoided. Each surgeon may have different recommendations, so you should discuss this with your surgeon. 

Jeff Barry, MD
Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery
UCSF Orthopaedic Institute
University of California, San Francisco


Last reviewed: 4/20/2021

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