Return to Golf and Tennis After Joint Replacement 

June 18, 2015

By: Kathleen A. Hogan, MD

As the last of the snow melts away, thoughts turn away from the ski slopes and towards the golf course and the tennis courts.    Unfortunately, if you have been living with hip or knee pain, these recreational activities may be more painful than pleasurable.

As a joint replacement surgeon, I treat patients whose pain from arthritis keeps them from participating in activities that they enjoy.  When non-operative treatments no longer provide significant pain relief, joint replacement may be an option.  Hip and knee replacement can be extremely successful in relieving pain from daily activities such as walking, standing, and stair climbing.  But for some people, this is not enough.   They want to get back to playing sports. This article will explore the issues affecting a return to golf and tennis after joint replacement.

Impact of Activity on an Artificial Joint

Joint replacements can wear out, and high impact activities such as running may cause the artificial joint to wear out faster, possibly leading to further surgery.  However, most joint replacement surgeons allow their patients to resume moderate activity, including golf and doubles tennis.   Golf and tennis do place considerable stresses on the knee with joint reactive forces similar to jogging generated during the swing of a racket or club.   In golf, the leading knee absorbs the most stress, and in tennis the forehand puts more stress on the knees than does a backhand stroke.

Return to Sporting Activity

Return to sporting activity depends on the type of joint replaced. Recovery after a hip replacement is typically faster than after knee replacement.   The direct anterior approach to hip replacement limits muscle damage and speeds recovery.  However, the bone needs to grow into the implant to stabilize it, and I recommend waiting a minimum of 8 weeks before resuming vigorous activities.   Recovery after knee replacement is slower.  More time is needed to recover range of motion and gain strength.

Impact of Joint Replacement on Athletic Performance

How does joint replacement affect athletic performance? Surveys of small numbers of golfers show small increase in handicap and decreased drive distance.  Most golfers do not walk the course after joint replacement, and instead choose to use a golf cart.  Some notice some mild discomfort during and after playing, but a high percentage of golfers  were able to resume playing the same or increased frequency as before their surgery.  There is limited data on return to play of tennis players, however.

Golf and Tennis After Joint Replacement?

So, can you return to golf and tennis after joint replacement? The answer is yes.  However, the tennis and golf swings do put considerable force on the joints. It may take time to rehabilitate your muscles to allow you to return to the same level of activity you had before your surgery.  Even after joint replacement your new hip or knee may ache or feel stiff after athletic activity.  However most golfers and tennis players indicate that they are able to continue to enjoy their sports following joint replacement.  If you routinely participate in sporting activities after joint replacement, it is usually recommended that you have an X-ray every 5 years to ensure that there has been no premature wear of the joint.