Exercises to get you up and moving post-surgery
The exercises listed in this article are designed to strengthen your joint post-surgery.
They will help with circulation through your legs and feet, which will minimize the chance of blood clots. It can also help with your muscle development and improve movement.
You should start with the exercises as soon as possible. They can even begin in the recovery room after your surgery.
It may be uncomfortable at first, however, they will drastically improve your chance of a speedy recovery. The pain will also reduce over time.
Eventually, you will be able to walk short distances and manage a few steps without complications.
Once you have reached this point in your recovery you can continue with more advanced knee strengthening exercises without risk of reinjury.
Full recovery is dependant on the initial injury and the person themselves.
If you keep your knee in good shape before the surgery then you will likely have a quicker recovery. It may take many months to get full movement back in your knee.
Knee injuries can cause pain and swelling and this continues on through post-surgery.
This swelling can weaken the joint which is why it is so important to participate in exercises to strengthen the joint before and after your surgery.
Knee pain and swelling are common after physical activity when you have an injury. This can be relieved by applying ice wrapped in a towel to the knee.
Exercise and general activity will improve the strength and mobility in your knee, but the key is to not overdo it.
If you are worried about reinjury then you should always consult your doctor beforehand.
1. Quadriceps sets
For the quadriceps sets, you must start by tightening your thigh muscle. Attempt to straighten your knee and hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds.
You can repeat for a total of 10 times over a 2-minute timeframe. Rest for one minute between the first and second sets.
You can continue for as many sets as you can until your thigh begins to feel fatigued.
2. Straight leg raises
For straight leg raises, tighten your thigh muscle and straighten your knee fully on the bed where you are sitting.
Lift your legs a few inches and then slowly lower them back down to the starting position.
You can repeat for as many reps as you can manage. This exercise can also be done while sitting.
Tighten your thigh muscle and hold your knee straightened with your leg unsupported.
This exercise can be done until you feel a difference in the strength of your thigh and it has returned to normal.
3. Ankle pumps
For ankle pumps, move your foot up and down in a rhythmic fashion. Contract your calf and shin muscles.
Continue for 2-3 minutes, 2 or 3 times an hour in the recovery room. This is the perfect exercise for circulation.
Continue with this exercise until you are fully recovered and the swelling in your ankle and lower leg have reduced significantly.
4. Knee strengthening exercise
Placing a small rolled-up towel under your leg just above your heel so that your heel is not touching the bed beneath you.
Tighten your thigh muscle. Try and straighten your joint to touch the back of your knee to the bed. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds.
You can repeat until you feel the need to stop and rest. Once your thigh feels fatigued this is a good indicator to rest before moving on to the next exercise.
5. Bed supported knee bends
To begin slide your foot toward your buttocks and bend the knee so that your heel stays on the bed.
Hold this position so that your leg is bent as far as it can go without causing pain. Stay for 5 to 10 seconds before returning to the start position.
Repeat several times and stop if you start to feel any pain or discomfort in your injured knee.
You can continue this exercise until you can fully bend your knee again.
6. Sitting supported knee bends
For the sitting supported knee bends, sit on the bedside or a sturdy chair.
With your thigh supported, put your foot behind the heel of your recovering joint for support. Slowly begin to bend your knee as far as you can.
Hold at the maximally bent position for 5 to 10 seconds before releasing.
7. Sitting unsupported knee bends
Sitting on the bedside or a sturdy chair, have your thigh supported just as in the exercise above.
Bend your knee as far as it can go until your foot rests on the floor.
With this position, your foot lightly resting on the floor, slide your upper body forward in the chair to increase the bend in your injured knee.
Hold this stretch for 5 to 10 seconds in total before straightening your leg fully. repeat as many times as you can until your leg starts to feel fatigued or until your knee can bend completely.
Advanced knee recovery exercises
8. Standing knee bends
Standing upright with the assistance of a walker or your crutches, lift your thigh and bend your injured knee as far as possible.
Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds.
Once you have held your leg for a short time, slowly straighten your knee so that your heel touches the floor first.
Repeat several times until fatigued.
9. Assisted knee bends
Begin the assisted knee bends by laying on your back. Place a folded towel over the injured joint and all the way down to the foot.
Bend your knee and use the towel to pull the knee toward you gently and increase the bend.
Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds before releasing back down to the starting position.
You can do this several times until you start to feel significant strain in your knee and it becomes fatigued.
Exercycling is the perfect exercise to regain muscle strength as well as mobility following joint surgery.
You may not have this piece of equipment at home but they are common in gyms around the world.
Adjust the seat of the exercycle so that your knee is almost straight when your foot just touches the pedal.
Begin by peddling backward until you find that comfortable cycling motion.
At the 4-6 week point, your joint will become stronger.
Here you can slowly increase the tension of the exercycle. 10 to 15 minutes twice a day is enough to feel the benefits of the exercycle to start.
You can build up to 20 to 30-minute sets just 3-4 times a week.
11. Knee exercises with resistance
This exercise will require ankle weights. Place the weights around your ankles and repeat any of the exercises mentioned above for the early recovery stage.
You can begin this resistance training from 4-6 weeks post-surgery.
Start at one pound weights and slowly increase as your joint becomes stronger.
These weights can be found at all sporting goods stores.
Frequently asked questions
Is walking good after total knee replacement?
Walking is a good way to increase mobility slowly following knee surgery. You can walk as much, or as little as you would like.
However, it should not be seen as a substitute for exercises that your doctors or physiotherapist gives you.
There are plenty of additional low-impact exercises that you can do during your recovery and walking is just one of them.
Swimming is also a great low-impact activity that is great during knee replacement recovery.
You can begin swimming as soon as your knee is healed sufficiently. It takes the pressure off the joint due to the buoyancy of the water.
It may take a little longer to get to walking long distances again after surgery.
What should I avoid after knee replacement?
It goes without saying that high-impact exercises and activities should be avoided after knee surgery of any kind.
You should keep the joint well-rested in order to heal in a reasonable timeframe.
There are also some more specific things that you should avoid. Make sure first of all to listen to your doctor or physical therapist.
The knee should be bent out and stretched in the way that they have instructed and the exercise regime they give you upon release from the hospital.
You should avoid sitting on stools, sofas, soft chairs, rocking chairs, and chairs that are too low to the ground.
All of these will put unnecessary pressure on the joint. Only sit in chairs with a straight back and armrests.
How long should you do physical therapy after a knee replacement?
During knee replacement surgery recovery, your doctor may recommend exercising for 20 to 30 minutes.
This should be done 2 or 3 times a day, you should also walk for up to 30 minutes a day throughout your early recovery.
Your doctor’s instructions should be adhered to strictly in order to minimize recovery time.
What activities can be done after knee replacement?
There are plenty of activities that you can take part in following your knee surgery. The Knee Society has compiled a brief list of acceptable activities for those who have undergone joint replacement surgery.
These activities include cycling, swimming, low-resistance rowing, walking hiking, low-resistance weight lifting, and stationary skiing machines.
Anything that puts a vast amount of stress on the joint should be avoided completely to minimize complications and the chance of reinjury.