9 Exercises to Do After a Knee Replacement

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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It’s probably hard to fathom exercising your knee right after surgery, but physical therapy after knee replacement is a proven method for restoring strength and movement to your new joint. Your doctor will encourage you to walk soon after surgery, while you’re still in the hospital or surgery center. Your physical therapist will also recommend specific exercises to prevent blood clots, gain muscle strength, and improve your range of motion. 

Your physical therapist will show you how to safely add resistance as you progress through the exercises. Try this set of exercises after knee replacement to help make your surgery a success.

1. Ankle Pumps and Rotations

You can start ankle exercises right after surgery. Lying on your back, flex and point your feet hinging at the ankle. Pump them like this several times. You can do ankle pumps every 10 minutes or so. For ankle rotations, make a circle with your foot by moving it at the ankle. Turn your foot inward toward the other foot, sweep outward away from the other foot, and then back inward. Go several times in each direction 3 to 4 times a day.

2. Quadriceps Contractions

Lying flat, tighten your thigh muscle with a straight knee until the back of the knee pushes into the bed. Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat 10 times, rest for a minute, and repeat until your thigh muscle is tired. Do these 3 to 4 times a day. This exercise strengthens your quadriceps—a large muscle group that controls leg movement. It also helps you achieve a straight leg position.

3. Straight Leg Raises

Lying on your back, straighten your leg and lift it off the bed. Lift your leg several inches in the air while keeping it straight. Hold this position for a few seconds and slowly lower it. You can also do these sitting with your leg straight out in front of you. Don’t support your leg, keep your knee straight, and lift it several inches. Repeat straight leg raises until your thigh is fatigued. Do these exercises 3 to 4 times a day.

4. Knee Straightening

This exercise is similar to the quadriceps contractions. For this version, put a small rolled towel under your ankle so your heel is off the bed. Tighten your thigh muscle until the back of the knee pushes into the bed. Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat this until your thigh muscle is fatigued, 3 to 4 times a day. This exercise provides a deeper straightening of the knee.

5. Heel Slides

Lying down on the bed, slide the heel of your foot up toward your buttocks. Your goal is to achieve a bent knee with your heel remaining on the bed. Don’t let your knee roll inward or outward. Once you have bent your knee as far as possible, hold this position for 10 seconds and slowly slide your foot back out. Repeat the bend until your leg is fatigued, 3 to 4 times a day. It helps with range of motion.

6. Seated Supported Knee Bends

Sitting on the edge of a chair or bed, let your leg hang down. Make sure whatever you are sitting on is supporting your thigh. Cross your uninvolved leg under your ankle and use it to slowly straighten your leg. Then use it to slowly lower your leg and bend it as far as possible. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat until your leg is tired. You can do this exercise 3 to 4 times a day. 

7. Seated Unsupported Knee Bends

Eventually, you will be able to do unsupported knee bends. Like the supported knee bends, sit on a chair or bed with your thigh supported. Leave your uninvolved foot on the floor. Bend your knee as far as you can until your foot is on the floor. Bend your upper body forward to deepen the exercise. Hold for 10 seconds and fully straighten your knee. Repeat until your leg is fatigued, 3 to 4 times a day. 

8. Walking

Walking is one of the most important exercises you can do to speed recovery after a knee replacement. At first, you will use your walker or crutches to practice walking. Advance your support out in front and put your operated leg forward in a step. Remember to put your heel down first and then flatten your foot. Take your time and use short steps. Keep an even pattern for each step and don’t lean away from your operated knee. 

9. Stair Stepping

Once you have some strength and flexibility, the stairs can help you build endurance. Always hold the handrail and use a crutch or cane in the other hand. At first, you will take one step at a time, bringing both feet on the same stair before stepping up the next one. Remember to lead up with your good leg and down with your operated leg. Eventually, you will progress to foot over foot going up and down the stairs.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 9
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