Abstract The stress distribution within the polyethylene insert of a total knee joint replacement is dependent on the kinematics, which in turn are dependent on the design of the articulating surfaces, the relative position of the components and the tension of the surrounding soft tissues. Implicit finite element analysis techniques have been used previously to examine the polyethylene stresses. However, these have essentially been static analyses and hence ignored the influence of the kinematics. The aim of this work was to use an explicit finite element approach to simulate both the kinematics and the internal stresses within a single analysis. A simulation of a total knee joint replacement subjected to a single gait cycle within a knee wear simulator was performed and the results were compared with experimental data. The predicted kinematics were in close agreement with the experimental data. Various solution-dependent parameters were found to have little influence on the predicted kinematics. The predicted stresses were found to be dependent on the mesh density. This study has shown that an explicit finite element approach is capable of predicting the kinematics and the stresses within a single analysis at relatively low computational cost.