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Post-op knee replacement exercises

Recovering from joint replacement surgery is a process. Our expert team of physiotherapists have put together a guide of exercises to assist you on your road to recovery by restoring your strength and mobility.

A guide for patients

Total knee replacement exercises

Following your Total Knee Replacement, you will be seen by a member of the inpatient Physiotherapy team. They will teach you to mobilise with the appropriate aid and encourage you to mobilise little and often.

Your orthopaedic surgeon and physiotherapist will advise you to complete post-operative exercises 4 times a day to regain your knee strength and mobility, as part of our Rapid Recovery programme, designed to get you the best outcome from surgery. Our aim is to help you return to daily activities as quickly and safely as possible, so you can get back to enjoying life. 

The following information might help you better understand your physio exercise and activity programme. Before doing any of the activities depicted, consult with your physio or surgeon to ensure a safe recovery. These are intended as a guide only.

Early post-operative exercises

The exercises below can help you improve the circulation in your legs, which is crucial for preventing blood clots. They will also assist in the strengthening of your muscles and the improvement of knee mobility.

You can start these exercises early post recovery, once you're back in your own room on the ward. These exercises may make you feel uneasy at first, but they will help you heal faster and reduce your post-operative discomfort. These exercises can also be continued once you return home to continue building your strength and mobility after total knee replacement surgery.

Ankle pumps

  • Move your foot up and down by contracting your calf and shin muscles.
  • Perform this exercise four times a day, with 10 repetitions each time.
  • Movement helps to increase circulation, which in turn minimises the risk of blood clots forming.

Static quads

  • Activate the quad muscles by pulling your toes towards you and push your knee towards the bed as if squashing an "invisible ball".
  • Perform this exercise four times a day, with 10 repetitions each time.
  • This helps to build muscle strength around your newly replaced knee joint.

Inner range quads

  • Place a rolled up towel or equivalent under your operated knee.
  • Keeping your knee in contact with the towel, pull your toes towards you and push your knee down into the towel.
  • Perform this exercise four times a day, with 10 repetitions each time.

Straight leg raise

  • Bend your non-operated leg for support, pull your toes towards you and push your operated knee into the bed to straighten your leg.
  • Gently lift your operated leg between 10-20cms off the bed and hold the position for 5 seconds before slowly lowering the leg back down.
  • Perform this exercise four times a day, with 10 repetitions each time.
  • This helps to build muscle strength around your newly replaced knee joint.

Passive extension

  • Passive extension is a sustained stretch, so aim to do this for a minimum of around 20 minutes.
  • Place a rolled up towel or equivalent under your ankle on the operated leg.
  • With nothing underneath your knee you should be able to feel a stretch along your hamstring.
  • Ice the knee using a cooling gel pack to help reduce swelling and inflammation.
  • We recommend doing this four times a day, for around 20-30 minutes each time.

Knee bending - building mobility

  • Lay down on a bed or soft mat with your legs out straight.
  • Keeping your heel in contact with the bed, slowly bring your foot on your operated leg towards you.
  • As your knee bends you'll feel some resistance, pause and then return your leg to a straight position.
  • This helps you get used to bending your operated knee.
  • Complete 10 repetitions per set, 4 times a day.

Long arc quadriceps

  • The long arc quads is an excellent exercise to strengthen your quadriceps.
  • Slowly straighten the operated leg while sitting on the edge of a table or on a chair.
  • As you straighten your leg in front of you, keep your toes pointing towards you.
  • Hold the position for 5 seconds before slowly lowering back to the starting position.
  • We recommend doing this four times a day, with 10 repetitions each time.

Calf muscle stretch

  • In a split stance with your operated leg behind you, keep both feet firmly planted on the floor and facing a wall.
  • Lean towards the wall using your hands for support.
  • Lunge forwards so you can feel the calf muscle stretch on your operated leg.
  • Hold this for up to 20 seconds and repeat the stretch 3 times in a set, up to four times a day.

Seated knee flexion

  • You need to be able to slide your foot along the floor easily, so wear appropriate socks, or place a plastic bag under your foot.
  • Sit upright on the edge of a chair with your legs out in front of you.
  • Slide your heel on the operated leg back towards you as far as it will go (you can use your non-operated leg for support by hooking your ankle over the other)
  • Hold that position for 10 seconds before slowly sliding your heel back to the starting position.
  • We recommend doing this four times a day, gradually building up to 10 repetitions in each set.