One of the best, proactive steps you can take to prepare for and ensure a strong recovery post knee replacement surgery is to engage in regular exercises that strengthen and stretch your knee. Doing strength and range of motion exercises for your knee is the number one factor you are in control of throughout the knee replacement process; exercise greatly impacts the overall functioning of your knees. From all I have seen training knee replacement clients for over a decade, the candidates who participate in exercises gain much greater strength, flexibility, and physical independence than those who do not exercise. Here are some guidelines to follow to help you get started on your program of exercises for knee replacement.
Best Exercises for Knee Replacement
What do I need to strengthen for my knee replacement?
The number one muscle you need to strengthen both pre and post knee replacement surgery is your quadriceps. Now, if you are pre operation, then the strength exercises you select for your quadriceps most likely will need to be non weight bearing. The non weight bearing quadricep strength exercises continue as your goal immediately post operation for upto six weeks, where you will then be able to gradually progress to weight bearing quadricep strength exercises.
Another important goal to target as part of your knee replacement exercise program is doing unilateral quadricep strength exercises. What this means is that it is important to do one leg strength exercises such as the shuttle found in a weight rooms. Sometimes a rather large strength discrepancy can occur and grow between the two legs and when you only perform two leg exercises; in two leg strength exercises, the strong leg always does more work leaving the other leg weak. Quadricep strength exercises for knee replacement are crucial to do both pre and post surgery for optimal recovery.
What are the best range of motion exercises for knee replacement?
First off, it is important to note that range of motion and stretching are defined differently; they are not the same. Range of motion has to do with the range of mobility you have at your joint. At the knee, our range of motion is in flexion, or our ability to bend the knee, and extension, the ability to straighten our knee. The term stretching refers to a muscles length and can impact the range of motion at a joint. For instance, at the knee, your quadriceps and hamstrings muscle length will impact range of motion if they are short and tight.
You need to focus first and foremost on gaining and maintaing as much flexion and extension you can achieve at your knee joint. This is your goal both pre and post knee replacement surgery. Although the goal is to achieve as much range of motion as possible, you must still work through your pain free range of motion. Again, just like the strength exercises, if you are pre operation, then the range of motion exercises should be non weight bearing. Similarly, post knee replacement surgery, the range of motion exercises can progress to weight bearing options. The stationary bicycle is an excellent tool and exercise to improve your range of motion as it works both flexion and extension of the knee in a non weight bearing capacity.
The good news here is that there are so many easy range of motion exercises you can do in the comfort of your home. There are ones you can do lying on your back or stomach with no equipment at all. If you have a body ball or could get one for your home, then there are also some fabulous body ball flexion range of motion exercises. In addition, using a theraband provides even more flexibility exercise options that will help you gain good range of motion at your knee. Everyone going in for or recovering from knee replacement surgery should do both range of motion and strength exercises for their knees.
Are there specific stretching exercises for knee replacement?
Yes, there are specific stretching exercises for knee replacement that will benefit you the most. Your stretching routine should target two muscle changes that occur in your body when you have knee arthritis or knee replacement surgery:
- What muscles get tight and negatively impact the range of motion at my knee?
- Which muscles automatically tighten due to the pain and trauma of arthritis, surgery, and altered gait?
Stretches for Knee Replacement
If your quadricep muscle shortens then it can limit the flexion or bending ability you have at your knee. Stretching out the quadriceps will facilitate a greater range of motion of flexion at your knee. What this translates to in daily ability is being able to do tasks with ease such as getting in and out of a car, sitting in a low chair or on the toilet, and sitting in tight spaces such as a movie theatre or airplane. A tight hamstring is what limits your knees ability to straighten. Needless to say it is very important to stretch out your hamstrings so that you can extend your knee. We need extension at our knees to perform daily tasks such as walking and standing with an even pelvis so we do not experience back pain.
Therefore, the two most important muscles to stretch are your quadriceps and hamstrings. There are however, two other leg muscles that get tight on knee replacement people and they are the calves and the IT Band or illiotibial band. Make sure your pre and post knee replacement stretching exercise program includes all four of these muscles.
The Knee Replacement Exercise Program
There are the three most important elements to include in your knee replacement exercise program:
- Strength exercises for your quadriceps
- Range of Motion exercises for both flexion and extension of the knee
- Stretches for all the muscles around the knee
The great thing about all these exercises is that they really do make you feel better, loosen your knee, and improve your overall function. Give yourself a goal to begin doing at least two quadricep strength exercises, one flexion and extension exercise, and a stretch for your quadriceps and hamstrings. Learning exactly what exercises you need to do for you your knee replacement will help you recover strong. There is a complete knee replacement exercise program you can benefit from which will highlight all the exercises you need for quadricep strength, flexion, extension, and stretching. Learn more and receive a copy of the Knee Replacement Exercise eBook and/or video here.