10 Exercises and Stretches After Total Knee Replacement Surgery

Exercises and Stretches to do After a Total Knee Replacement Surgery

After your surgery

The exercises that you perform after surgery help strengthen your knee and improve flexibility so that you can quickly get back on your feet. They also increase your chances of long-term satisfaction with your artificial knee. It’s important to commit to a rehab plan and work with your surgeon and physical therapist to set goals.

Jamie Nelson, PT, DPT, offers insights into exercises that can help you rehab quickly and effectively. Your goal should be to increase each week, from 10 repetitions in week one, to 15 in week two, to 20 in week three, and beyond.

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Keep reading to learn about several recommended exercises and how they can benefit you.

1. Straight leg lifts

Lie on your back with your involved leg full extended. Bend your other leg at the knee (both legs extended puts excessive stress on the low back). Lift your involved leg about six inches and hold for 10 seconds.

This exercise helps strengthen the quadriceps muscle in your thigh. It also improves the stability of your knee joint. The stronger your quads, the more control you’ll have over your artificial knee.

2. Ankle pumps

Lay flat on your back. Bend both ankles up and point your toes toward you. Next, bend your ankles down and point your toes away from you. As you do this, rotate your feet clockwise and then counterclockwise, keeping your toes pointed toward the ceiling.

This exercise helps to circulate blood back to the heart. It can reduce swelling and the risk of developing a deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot that can be dangerous.

3. Thigh squeezes

Lie flat on your back. Tighten the muscles in front of your thigh by pushing the back of your knee down toward the floor. Hold for five seconds and relax.

This exercise helps reduce swelling in the knee and builds distal quadriceps strength. This is crucial for walking and for standing with your knee locked.

4. Leg slides

Lie on your back. Slide your leg out to the side while your kneecap is pointed upward. Then slide your leg back to the starting position.

This exercise helps activate your abductors, and more specifically your gluteus medius muscle. These muscles are crucial for pelvic stability during the stance phase while walking.

5. Knee bending

Sit in a stable chair. Bend your leg so that it’s underneath the seat. Now bend your knee back as far as possible. Hold it for five seconds and then return it to the resting position.

This exercise can help to improve your range of motion.

6. Prolonged knee stretch

Sit in a chair. Bend your knee back as far as possible, and hold for 15-30 seconds. As you gain range of motion, scoot forward in the chair to increase the stretch. Over time and as tolerated, increase the duration of the stretch to 60 seconds. Repeat several times per day.

This exercise focuses on increasing knee flexion, or range of motion. It’s crucial for higher-level activities like getting out of a low chair, going up a flight of stairs, and driving.

7. Knee straightening stretch

Sit upright in a chair. Place the leg with the artificial knee as straight as possible on an opposite facing chair (opposite chair not shown). Keep the leg extended and straight for 10 minutes; your toes can remain relaxed. Slowly take your leg out of this position — it will be a little sore. Let it rest but keep it moving. After this stretch, it’s a good time to do your heel slides.

This exercise also helps increase terminal knee extension range of motion. You can increase the knee extension time to up to 30 minutes.

8. Heel slides

Lie flat on your back. Bend your hip and knee by sliding your foot and heel upward toward your buttocks. Then slide your foot and heel back to the starting position. Keep your kneecap pointed toward the ceiling during the entire exercise.

This exercise builds hamstring strength as well as improving active knee flexion range of motion. Both are important for all activities of daily living.

9. Lying kicks

Lie on your back on the floor or a bed. Place a rolled blanket or large coffee can under your knee. Straighten your lower leg and hold the position for 5 seconds. Slowly lower your leg and rest. Make sure the back of your knee stays in contact with the object the entire time. The small of your back must remain on the floor.

This exercise helps build the quadriceps muscle through a larger range of motion. 

10. Passive hamstring stretch

Lie on your back with your leg fully extended. Place your foot on a stack of pillows, allowing your leg (the one with your new artificial knee) to hang freely. Staying in this gentle stretch position for 10 minutes.

This exercise is one of the most important exercises to do early in your rehab program. It allows you to start gaining full knee extension, which is crucial for gait.

The key to recovery

Spend at least 10 to 15 minutes, two to three times a day, doing these exercises. Remember that increasing your range of motion in the early rehab phase is crucial to a successful recovery. Your ability to build up strength in muscles around the knee after surgery will help you rehabilitate faster and better. Also, keep moving. Walk outside your home three to five times each day and extend the walks, as you grow stronger.

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