As knee replacement surgery becomes more and more common, there is increasing focus on exercises that will strengthen the new knee and improve its flexibility. Though recovery times vary, research has shown that particular exercises can accelerate healing, reduce pain, and increase range of motion. In most cases, your orthopedic surgeon will also prescribe a course of physical therapy before surgery to improve your chances of an uncomplicated and speedy recovery.
Once your surgery has been performed, you will participate in a postsurgical program of physical therapy, typically some with a trained physical therapist and some on your own at home. You should always check with your surgeon and/or physical therapist before engaging in any independent exercise to make sure you are improving, rather than interfering with, your recovery.
Early Postsurgical Exercises
Almost immediately after your operation, sometimes in the recovery room, you will begin light exercises lightly. Before you know it,you will be up and walking, at first with a walker or crutches. Your surgeon will instruct you about how much weight to put on your affected leg.
Whether you go for inpatient rehabilitation or have physical therapy at home, it will typically take from 2 to 3 weeks for you to be able to walk with only a cane for assistance. In addition to walking for 30 minutes two to three times daily during your early recovery period, you will be instructed to perform other exercises for 20 to 30 minutes two to three times a day.
If all this sounds a bit like boot camp to you, you’re not wrong. All the hard work and initial discomfort, however, will pay off big time as you find yourself increasingly able to function independently without the severe pain that caused you to have the knee replacement surgery in the first place. While such intensive therapy is still the norm, an Australian research study published in 2016 suggested that less intensive therapy can be just as helpful. In this matter, your surgeon will be able to guide you to a program that will be appropriate for your particular needs.
Early Postoperative Exercises
Early postoperative exercises may include:
- Quadriceps sets
- Straight leg raises
- Short arcs
- Ankle pumps
- Heel slides
- Knee extensions
- Bed-supported knee bends
- Sitting supported knee bends
- Sitting unsupported knee bends
In addition to regaining your ability to do sustained walking, you will be instructed in the appropriate way to climb and descend stairs (up with the good leg; down with the bad). Such training usually begins early on, but it may take you a while to be able to climb stairs foot after foot instead of one step at a time. You should always hold onto the stair railing and, in the early days, have someone close at hand during your stair climbing expeditions.
More Advanced Exercises and Everyday Activities
Regaining your independence will be exhilarating, but the process will be exhausting. You should be prepared for a recovery that will take many months and for some days when you feel no improvement has occurred. Recovery fluctuates with your health, your mood, and, in some cases (according to a Tufts University study on arthritis released in 2007) the weather. Nonetheless, you will undoubtedly be pleased with the overall results of your knee replacement. In a study of 7,000 patients, 95 percent reported being happy with the operation after a year.
As you become stronger and more accustomed to your new knee, you will be able to perform more difficult exercises with greater and greater ease. These advanced exercises include:
- Standing knee bends
- Assisted knee bends
- Knee exercises with resistance (wraparound ankle weights)
It is important to work hard during exercise periods, but it is also important to be cautious. Proceed at a reasonable pace and never continue exercising if you experience sharp pain. It is essential that you consult with your orthopedic surgeon whenever you are unsure about how to proceed.