What Should I Expect in Physical Therapy After Knee Replacement Surgery?

Posted by Lindsay Miller

| Physical Therapy

Knee replacement surgery has become one of the most commonly performed surgeries in the US, and its success rate has improved greatly with the advancement of surgery techniques and the right physical therapy regimen. Our very own PT Lindsay Miller shares some of her expertise on what the rehab process should look like if you are someone who is considering having such a procedure.

Range of Motion

The early rehab process is rather painful to begin with, and that's just something that you're going to have to understand and accept. The key to recovery at this stage is movement and range of motion, especially:

  • straightening of the knee
  • bending of the knee

Knee extension (strengthens muscles in front of the thigh and shin by straightening the knee) and knee flexion (strengthen the leg muscles and knee joint by bending the knee) will be heavily focused upon by your PT.  This is going to ensure that we try to get you as close to full range of motion as we can after a knee replacement.

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Typical functional motion required to do normal daily activities is 120 degrees of knee flexion and zero degrees knee extension. You want to get as close to that as possible so you can perform activities of daily living such as sitting down and standing up in a chair, or sitting down and standing up in the bathroom, or going up and down stairs.

Knee Strengthening

Once your range of motion has been assessed and developed, it's now time for strengthening. The following exercises take into account how important hip strength, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius strength is for overall knee stability. A few strengthening exercises that will certainly be prescribed are:

  • Straight leg raise
  • Short-arc lift
  • Side lying abduction
  • Standing hamstring curl
  • Toe raises
  • Thigh and hip strengthening leg raises

These exercises should be done as frequently as you can tolerate, approximately 2 to 3 sets of 10 for each daily.

Other Concerns

Aside from range of motion and strengthening, PTs will focus on a patient's balance. Obviously your sense of balance has been compromised by the surgery. You are at a greater risk for falls and re-injuring your knee. Therefore, PTs may look at how you walk, make sure you are landing on your heel, going through the toes, using your assistive devices properly. Depending on how painful it is, you may start with a walker. We want to make sure that the walker is a fit for you, and that you're using it properly. The PTs goal will be to have you transition to a cane and then to no assistive device at all.

The recommendations we made above are intended to be general guidelines regarding your rehab after knee replacement surgery.  Everyone's situation is different, and after your initial evaluation with your PT they should recommend a specific plan of care to help you regain your mobility and improve your function. 

If you'd like to speak with one of our physical therapists about the rehab process after a knee replacement, or find one of our 3 outpatient clinics throughout San Diego, please contact us:

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