Knee replacements have advanced significantly in recent decades to become a highly successful way to restore range of motion for people suffering from severe osteoarthritis or other serious knee issues. While the artificial joint is made from highly durable materials like titanium and silicone, successful rehab still relies on the patient’s dedication to rehabilitation and strengthening exercises.
If you are contemplating a knee replacement or you are about to have a knee replacement procedure, you might want to familiarize yourself with the following exercises. Performing them with your physical therapist or in the comfort of your own home will go a long way toward a speedy, successful recovery.
The Importance Of Early Postoperative Exercises
Most people who have a knee replacement will start physical therapy within a day or so of the surgery. This helps prevent problems with blood clots, while also helping to maintain strong muscles and range of motion. Your surgeon and physical therapist will base your early exercises on your fitness level as well as other important factors.
Following these exercises according to plan will help you make a quick transition to more advanced strengthening exercises.
This exercise is designed to help strengthen the large quadriceps muscles of the upper leg. This calls for tightening your thigh muscle and then strengthening your leg. Hold in the flexed pose for 5 to 10 seconds at a time. Allow yourself a few seconds for the muscles to recover and then repeat for 10 repetitions over the course of two minutes. As the strength and stamina of your legs improve you might be able to expand up to three sets of 10 repetitions with a few minutes of rest in between.
Straight Leg Raises
Straight leg raises are another helpful exercise for strengthening the quadriceps and can be done while laying down or reclined in a chair. They call for tightening the thigh muscles while the knee is held fully straight. Then lift your leg a few inches and hold it in place as best you can for 5 to 10 seconds. Then slowly lower your leg back down. You can continue to do this under your thigh or hip muscles feel fatigued.
Ankle pumps help to strengthen the muscles in the lower leg, like the shin and calf muscles. The great thing about them is that you can do them just about anywhere. You simply move your foot up and down in a rhythm as you contract your lower leg muscles. You can do them for two to three minutes at a time, and then give the muscles a little time to recover after you work them to fatigue.
Knee Straightening Exercise
Knee straightening exercises take the muscle strengthening process up a step. It starts with placing a small rolled towel just above your heel to keep your heel from touching the bed. Then do your best to tighten your thigh as you fully straighten your knee as you try to touch the back of your knee to the bed. You then hold your straightened knee for up to 10 seconds.
Laying Knee Bends
You can perform this exercise while lying in bed. It starts with you carefully bending your knee as you slide your heel toward your buttocks. Then hold your knee in this position for 5 to 10 seconds, before carefully straightening your leg.
Sitting Knee Bends
This exercise can be performed on a chair or at your bedside, as long as your thigh is comfortably supported. You place your foot behind the heel of the foot with the knee replacement. Then gradually bend your knee as far as you can and hold it in that position for at least 5 to 10 seconds. You can continue repetitions until your leg feels nearly fatigued.
Sitting Unsupported Knee Bends
This is another exercise that you can perform while seated at the bedside or in a chair with your thigh supported. You start by bending your knee until your foot rests fully on the floor. Then slide your upper body forward causing your knee to gently bend. Remain in that position for 5 to 10 seconds before straightening your knee completely.
Insights On The Knee Replacement Rehabilitation Process
The rehabilitation and physical therapy after a knee replacement starts within a day or two of the operation. It’s important to maintain some level of activity to preserve mobility and start the process of restoring your natural range of motion. From there your rehabilitation will progress steadily based on your performance.
How Soon Do You Start Walking After A Knee Replacement?
Walking is a very important first step after a knee replacement. Most people need some type of assistance devices like a walker or crutches. You can start with short distances, which includes reaching forward with your operated leg and the knee straightened to the point where the heel of your foot is the first to touch the floor. With each step, your ankle and knee will bend until your entire foot will rest evenly on the floor. When you progress to the next step, your toe will then lift off the floor as your knee and hip bend forward for your next step.
Over the next few weeks, you should gradually notice an improvement in the muscle strength of your leg and overall endurance. This will be accompanied by an increased ability to support weight on the leg with the knee replacement.
Most people find that between 2 to 4 weeks after the surgery, you will be able to walk or stand for more than 10-minutes. At that point, your physical therapist might give you the go-ahead to start using a cane or a different type of support device.
Climbing & Descending Stairs
Being able to go up and downstairs is one of the many challenges faced by people with a knee replacement. This requires both strength and flexibility, as well as the use of a handrail or some other type of supportive device.
It’s also worth noting that the leg you lead with will be a factor. Ideally, when going upstairs, you want to step first with your good leg. When going downstairs, you want to step first with the knee replacement leg.
Advanced Activities & Exercises After A Knee Replacement
As your flexibility and strength improvements in the weeks following your knee replacement, you can start to embrace more advanced activities and exercise.
Standing Knee Bends
This exercise starts with standing up as straight as possible with the aid of a walker or crutches. Then lift your thigh while bending your knee as much as you can. Then hold it for 5 to 10 seconds. You should then straighten your knee making sure to touch the floor with your heel first.
Assisted Knee Bends
You can do this exercise laying on your back, then place a folded towel overtop the replacement knee. Then allow the towel to drop to your foot. At that point, you bend your replaced knee and gently apply pressure as you continue to bend.
Dealing With Pain or Swelling After Exercise
Pain and minor swelling is a natural part of the rehabilitation process after a knee replacement. So, long as it’s “Minor” you shouldn’t be alarmed. You can usually reduce discomfort by elevating the leg and applying a cold compress for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Your physician will be able to provide you with recommendations for pain medications based on any post-operative prescriptions they provide you with, as well as your level of discomfort.