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Exercises That May Help You Before And After A Knee Replacement Surgery

By Dr. Santosh Shetty +2 more

Knee replacement surgery is usually needed in patients suffering from extreme knee pain and restricted knee mobility and functionality. The surgery entails that the impaired cartilage and bones from the terminal end of the thigh bone, shinbone, and kneecap are surgically removed and in their place, an artificial knee joint system is put in. This prosthesis is typically made up of alloys of various metals, as well as high-density plastics and polymer materials. 


Who may need knee replacement surgery? 

Though various exercises and home remedies may temporarily relieve knee pain, knee replacement surgery is necessary for people whose knees are severely damaged due to conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or post-traumatic injury to joints. 

Here are some signs that may indicate that you need knee replacement surgery: 

  • Difficulty in walking, sitting, standing or climbing stairs.
  • Other treatments and therapy prove ineffective.
  • Recurring and acute pain in the knee. 
  • Increasingly restricted mobility. 
  • Inflammation around the knee area.
  • Day-to-day activities become burdensome.
  • You don’t feel like doing activities you previously enjoyed.

Is exercise good for knee replacement surgery?

Exercises are good for your body as a rule of thumb. Exercise will help you gain more strength in the muscles supporting your knees and may help you achieve better mobility of the knees. However, in case you suffer from knee aches or conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or post-traumatic arthritis, it is always advisable to seek the opinion of your doctor and an excellent physical therapist to know what exercises may be helpful and which exercises to avoid. This will help you plan out an exercise regimen in keeping with your body’s needs and limits. Having said this, in case of acute knee damage, knee replacement surgery is a sustainable option that you may look into. The exercises suggested by your physical therapist may help you make a quicker recovery post a knee replacement surgery.

Exercises that may help pre-knee replacement surgery 

Pre-knee replacement surgery exercises may help you to build up muscle strength around the area of your knees and, therefore, may have a significant effect on the speediness and nature of your post-knee replacement surgery recovery. Some step-by-step exercises to do pre-knee replacement surgery (only after confirming with a doctor) are: 

1. Thigh squeezes 

  • Lie on your back
  • Push the back of your knee downwards to the floor/ bed
  • Tighten the muscles in the front of your thighs 
  • Try to hold the position for 5 seconds before letting go.
  • Do up to 3 sets of 5 with 20 repetitions.

2. Straight leg raises (side-lying)

  • Lie on your side
  • Lift the top leg straight upwards, about 1 to 2 feet from the other leg
  • Lower the leg and repeat on both sides.
  • Do up to 3 sets of 10 repetitions. 

3. Straight leg raises (regular)

  • Lie on your back
  • Bend your healthy knee by laying the foot flatly on the floor.
  • Light your other leg straight up to the height of your healthy knee.
  • Try to hold for 2 seconds before lowering gently.
  • Do up to 3 sets of 5 with 20 repetitions. 

4. Clamshell exercise

  • Lie on your back
  • Keep your heels together and bend your knees so that the knees point upwards.
  • Open and close your legs like an oyster.
  • Do up to 3 sets of 5 with 20 repetitions. 

5. Bending the knee

  • Sit on a sturdy chair
  • Bend your knees as far as you can.
  • Try to hold for 5 seconds and gently return to the normal position.
  • Do up to 3 sets of 5 with 20 repetitions. 

6. Kicks (sitting)

  • Sit on a sturdy chair.
  • Raise your leg up till it is straight. 
  • Try to hold for 5 seconds and gently return to the normal position.
  • Do up to 3 sets of 5 with 20 repetitions. 

7. Kicks (lying)

  • Lie on your back.
  • Put a rolled exercise mat/ towel/ cylindrical can below your knee.
  • Raise your leg up till it is straight. 
  • Try to hold for 5 seconds and gently return to the normal position.
  • Do up to 3 sets of 5 with 20 repetitions.

8. Chair push-ups 

  • Sit on a strong chair that has arms.
  • Holding the arms of the chair, push your body up to strengthen your arms and elbows.
  • Try to hold for 5 seconds and gently return to the normal position.
  • Do up to 3 sets of 5 with 20 repetitions.

9. Stomach kickbacks 

  • Lie on your stomach.
  • Raise your damaged leg up till it is straight. 
  • Try to hold for 2 to 3 seconds and gently return to the normal position.
  • Do up to 3 sets of 5 with 20 repetitions.

Exercises that may help post-knee replacement surgery

Post-knee replacement surgery, your doctor and physical therapist will generally advise you to do exercises and activities that are less strenuous to help in a smooth recovery and to ensure minimal damage to the prosthetic implants that have been put into your knee joint. Begin the exercises as and when directed by your surgeon. Some step-by-step exercises that may be advised post-knee replacement surgery are: 

Begin with slow walking with support and gradually increase the duration and frequency. 

1. Ankle pumps

  • Lie on your back with straight legs 
  • Point your foot horizontally and then towards the ceiling
  • Do one set of 10 repetitions every hour.

2. Quadriceps exercise

  • Lie on your back
  • Push the back of your knee downwards to the floor/ bed
  • Tighten the muscles in the front of your thighs 
  • Hold the position for 5 seconds before letting go.
  • Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions a day.

3. Exercise the buttocks

  • Lie on your back
  • Tighten the muscles of your buttocks by squeezing them together 
  • Hold the position for 5 seconds before letting go.
  • Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions a day.

4. Short arc quads

  • Lie on your back
  • Put a rolled exercise mat/ towel/ cylindrical can below your knee.
  • Raise your leg up till it is straight 
  • Hold for 5 seconds and gently return to normal position.
  • Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions a day.

5. Heel slides

  • Lie on your back
  • Pull the heel towards your buttocks, along the floor.
  • Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions a day.

6. Knee extension (sitting)

  • Sit on a sturdy chair.
  • Raise your leg up till it is straight 
  • Hold for 5 seconds and gently return to normal position.
  • Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions a day.

7. Low-impact sports and activities

These include walking, cycling and swimming are great for strengthening your knee post-knee replacement surgery in a safe and fun way.

Exercises to avoid post-knee replacement surgery

Although you will be able to do most activities and exercises safely after a knee replacement surgery, it is advisable to stay away from strenuous activities and exercises that put excessive pressure on your knee implants, such as:

1. Activities associated with high fall risks

Immediately post-operation, take measures to keep yourself safe; for example, put away tripping hazards like loose rugs, use a shower mat with a secure grip, and install handrails beside low-height toilet seats.

2. Do not sit for long periods immediately after surgery

This may cause blood to clot in your legs and the legs to swell. Keep your leg propped up if you’re sitting for over 45 minutes.

3. Lifting heavy objects

Don’t lift weights or objects that are very heavy, as this may put too much strain on your artificial knee joint system.

4. Avoid stairs

Immediately after the operation, you’ll have to walk with crutches or a walker. It is advisable to avoid stairs until your doctor gives it a thumbs up. 

5. Running and jumping

These are high-impact activities that may damage your knee joint.

6. Contact sports

Avoid sports that may cause injury through unexpected buckling of the knee, such as football, skiing, basketball, gymnastics, etc. 

7. Kneeling and squatting

Although you may be able to kneel for short periods of time, this will typically be a source of discomfort. You may do half-squats that feel comfortable to the knee, but avoid full squats and sitting on Indian-style toilets. 

Knee replacement surgery can lead to reduced pain in the knees and better mobility through a lessening of stiffness of the knees. It is a common and relatively safe surgery that is used as a highly effective mode of treatment for conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or post-traumatic arthritis. It thus enables you to regain ease in doing day-to-day activities and may thus improve your overall quality of life.

FAQs

Q1. If I do knee exercises, will I need knee replacement surgery at all? 

Ans. Knee exercises may help keep your knees strong and more flexible, but in cases of severe knee damage, knee replacement surgery may be the only option to relieve chronic knee-related problems. Speak to your doctor and seek guidance about whether or not you need knee replacement surgery.

Q2. What is the success rate of knee replacement surgery?

Ans. Knee replacement surgery is a common and relatively safe surgery. Most patients who adhere to a healthy lifestyle and exercise following the advice of their physical therapist are likely to experience longevity of their knee implants from 10 to over 20 years.

Q3. Will I regain full mobility and flexibility after knee replacement surgery?

Ans. Although you will be able to do most activities and exercises (that you previously were able to) safely after a knee replacement surgery, it is advisable to stay away from strenuous activities and exercises that put excessive pressure on your knee implants. Examples include contact sports, jumping, and squatting on Indian-style toilets.

Q4. How soon after knee replacement surgery will I be able to walk?

Ans. Soon after surgery, you will be able to walk using a walker or with supporting crutches. Most patients take between four to eight weeks to slowly regain the ability to do the everyday activities of their regular lives.

Q5. For how long should I exercise post-knee replacement surgery?

Ans. It is advisable to ask your orthopaedic surgeon and physical therapist about the duration of your exercise sessions after a knee replacement surgery.

Q6. What if I have difficulty doing the exercises suggested to me pre and post-knee replacement surgery?

Ans. Although it is normal to feel some discomfort while doing knee exercises pre and post-knee replacement surgery, do contact your orthopaedic surgeon and physical therapist to seek advice should you experience symptoms such as severe pain around the calf muscles, ankles, and foot, bleeding, inflammation of surgical area or high fever, etc. They may ask you to discontinue particular exercises and suggest other ones more suited to you.

Disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

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