Are you one of the 5 million Americans who undergo knee replacement surgery every year? It's important to know that enjoying a successful outcome starts during your recovery.
Exercise after your surgery helps improve your range of motion and strength. But it’s critical to understand which exercises are good for you and when it’s the right time to engage in physical activity.
Board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. Matthew J. Gargulinski and the team at OasisMD Lifestyle Healthcare provide total and complete knee replacement procedures to patients in the San Diego, Encinitas, and Temecula, California, areas.
Our team created this guide to help you understand the recovery timeline and the exercises that can help speed your healing. Keep reading to learn what you need to know about exercise after knee replacement surgery.
Post-surgery exercise: What to expect
Your surgery is only the beginning toward achieving a functional new joint. It’s important to take part fully in your post-surgery exercises. These begin on the same day as your surgery and continue throughout your recovery.
Physical therapy plays a key role in helping you exercise your new knee, so you can develop the strength and range of motion you need to return to an active lifestyle. Here’s a closer look at the exercises in which you can expect to engage after your surgery and when you can expect to perform them:
Exercise in the hospital
Beginning the day of your surgery, you’re encouraged to use your new knee. This is because motion is key for a successful recovery. Within 24 hours of your surgery, you get up to walk and stand with your therapist and a walker.
Your physical therapy team also shows you gentle exercises to perform, like flexing and pointing your toes. These exercises help to rebuild your strength and flexibility.
Exercise weeks 1-2
You continue with exercises during physical therapy at home for several weeks. These early exercises work to keep your joint moving and stop scar tissue from developing. It’s normal to experience some swelling and pain in the knee joint during these early weeks. It’s important to continue your exercises despite some discomfort. You can ice your knee and keep it elevated after physical therapy to reduce these symptoms.
Exercise weeks 3-6
Beginning around the third week, you can expect to perform exercises both at a physical therapy office and at home. You’ll move away from relying on a walker or cane and start moving more and more on your own.
Most knee replacement patients use a stationary bike to continue to build range of motion and strength. Your physical therapist also prescribes additional exercises to build muscle strength in areas responsible for knee stability. It’s important to follow instructions carefully and keep up exercises as directed for a faster, healthier recovery.
Exercise weeks 7-12
Most patients continue with physical therapy for three to five additional weeks. Your therapist increases the duration of your exercises and continues to build on the exercises you’ve been performing. Most patients are fully recovered three months after their surgery, but this may vary based on the type of knee replacement you had and your fitness level before surgery.
Post-recovery exercise: What you need to know
After you graduate from regular physical therapy, it’s important to tune in to what your body tries to tell you. By paying attention to your knee and surrounding tissues, you can prevent injuring the joint or having a setback in your recovery.
You need to know that even though the surgical knee may be “recovered” after three months, your body isn’t ready to jump back into regular exercise or sports for much longer. It can take up to one year before you’re cleared to participate in activities you enjoyed pre-surgery.
Your surgeon provides you with detailed instructions, and it’s important to follow them and wait to be cleared by your doctor and physical therapy team before returning to sports or pre-surgery exercises.
It’s a good idea to start with low-impact exercises, like swimming, for several months after your surgery. Around six months after your knee replacement, most people can expect to be cleared to return to more intense exercises. It’s important to follow the directions of your surgeon, however, as this varies based on your unique situation.
Some knee replacement patients may not be able to return to the same physical activities. For example, orthopedic surgeons generally recommend most people avoid high-impact exercise or activities with a high fall risk after a knee replacement — even when you’re fully recovered. This is because activities like jumping and running may damage your prosthetic knee or affect the healing process.
For more information about exercise after knee replacement surgery, schedule an appointment with Dr. Gargulinski at OasisMD Lifestyle Healthcare in San Diego, Temecula, or Encinitas, California.