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Staying Active: Sports and Activities You Can Do After a Total Knee Replacement

Overview

A knee replacement may be your ticket to a healthier and more active lifestyle. Once you’ve recovered, you can return to many activities that were too painful and difficult for you before surgery.

In most cases, you can resume many of your normal activities after about 12 weeks. But be sure to check with your doctor before starting a new sport or physical activity. Staying active will also help you strengthen your knee and make it more likely to function well for many years.

Here are a few examples of low-impact activities and sports that you should be able to do once you’ve recovered from your surgery.

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Guidelines

Exercise and activity guidelines

You may be excited to move without pain, but nervous that you’ll damage your new knee joint if you participate in physical activity after your surgery. Knee replacements have improved a lot over the last few decades. Artificial replacements are designed to mimic a natural knee. This means that, like a natural knee, it needs exercise to function properly.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), most doctors recommend up to 30 minutes of exercise two to three times per day during the early recovery stages. This is in addition to walking daily.

Your doctor will provide recommendations for activity based on your needs and overall health. In general, low-impact exercises are recommended over high-impact versions that can add stress to your knees.

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Aerobics

Aerobic exercises

1. Walking

Walking is one of the best exercises you can do to build up strength in your knee. It’s also a good way to burn calories and benefit your heart. Start with smaller steps and shorter walks as you work your way up to longer distances. Keep track of how long you walk every day so you can gauge your progress.

2. Running

Running is an aerobic activity like walking, but it’s much more high-impact. For this reason, the AAOS doesn’t recommend jogging or running after a total knee replacement.

Learn more: Skip the running: Alternatives to high-impact exercises »

3. Swimming

Swimming is not a weight-bearing activity, so it’s a great way to exercise without putting stress on your artificial knee. Many people with knee replacements can resume swimming within three to six weeks after surgery. But check with your doctor or physical therapist before diving into the pool.

4. Dancing

Ballroom dancing and gentle modern dancing are great ways to exercise. Dancing is a good way to use leg muscles and engage in light aerobic activity. Avoid twisting and abrupt movements that could put your knee out of alignment. Also avoid high-impact movements such as jumping.

5. Cycling

Cycling is a good way to regain strength in your knee. Whether you use an actual bicycle or an exercise machine, stay on a flat surface and increase your distance slowly.

The AAOS recommends peddling backwards on a stationary bike as you gradually gain your strength back. You can track your activity and time yourself to make it more challenging.

Learn more: The best biking apps of 2016 »

6. Elliptical machines

These machines can provide a good workout without placing undue stress on the knees. As with cycling, your knees move in a circular motion, which means you can go for longer distances. An elliptical machine is a great alternative to running because you can move faster than walking, without the impact.

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Strength and flexibility

Strength and flexibility training

1. Yoga

Gentle stretching is a great way to avoid stiffness, improve your flexibility, and boost the overall health of your knee. It’s important to avoid twisting movements, and it's critical to protect your knees by keeping them aligned with your hips and ankles.

Talk with your yoga instructor before class so they’re aware of your limitations. This will help prevent extra strain on your knee. If you feel any knee pain, modify the exercise or consider taking a break.

Learn more: The best yoga apps of the year »

2. Weightlifting

Lifting weights helps build strength and diminish knee pain. Your bones will also grow and become stronger if you practice resistance training.

Use weights that are appropriate for your size and strength. Check with your doctor before engaging in a weightlifting program. If necessary, consult with a physical therapist or trainer to map out a regimen.

3. Calisthenics

These basic exercises rely on simple, rhythmical movements, and help build strength while increasing flexibility. Examples include crunches, pushups, and lunges.

You should also consider gentle aerobics. These classes are available at most gyms. Just make sure you skip high-impact exercises.

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Recreation

Recreational activities

1. Golf

The golf course provides a good way to walk and exercise various muscles in both your lower and upper body. Avoid wearing spikes that could get caught in the ground, and make sure you maintain good balance when you hit the ball.

Spend adequate time warming up at the driving range, and use a golf cart once you hit the course. If you experience any problems, call off the round and consult your doctor.

Learn more: 5 exercises to improve your golf swing »

2. Doubles tennis

Doubles tennis requires less movement than singles, so it’s a good way to exercise without placing undue stress on your knee.

In most cases, you can begin playing tennis six months following your surgery. Be sure to avoid running and keep your games low-impact.

3. Rowing

Rowing provides a good upper body and heart workout, and places minimal stress on the knees. Make sure you adjust the seat on the machine so that your knees are bent 90 degrees or more.

4. Bowling

It’s generally safe to bowl after knee replacement surgery, but you should consider using a lighter ball to reduce stress on your knee. Stop bowling if you begin to feel any pain in your knees.

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Outlook

Outlook

The AAOS estimates that over 90 percent of people who get knee replacements have less knee pain and feel like their overall quality of life has improved. Working out can keep your weight down, which may also help reduce wear and tear on your new knee joints.

Rushing into activities before you’ve sufficiently recovered may put you at risk for complications. It’s important to take things slowly and gradually build your way up to a comprehensive exercise routine.

Check with your doctor before engaging in any activities after knee surgery. Above all, stop working out immediately if you feel any knee pain or discomfort.

Learn more: Exercise for seniors »

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