Best Knee Replacement Exercises

There are literally 100’s of exercises to choose from following a knee replacement surgery. Selecting the best exercise(s) without any rehab experience is a bit like trying to determine which exercises you should choose to become a better golfer. You would be forced to admit that a golf-pro would likely select an “exercise progression” from simple to complex that would maximize results. So the better question to ask is which exercises should I choose and at what stage should I perform them?

Luckily, knee replacement recovery is not as difficult a task as becoming a good golfer but the principle still applies.  An extremely common mistake made by patients and rehab personnel alike, is to try to do too many exercises, too soon after surgery.

Here is an example: In the two weeks after surgery the most important goal is to regain your knee range of motion. Spending a bunch of time doing standing exercises for hip flexion, extension and abduction (up in front, back and out to the side) is a waste of time for this phase in your recovery.

Could your hip use a bit of strengthening? Of course since you have probably been limiting the activity of that limb secondary to your knee pain. But this strengthening can be achieved later during the functional mobility stage where you can strengthen the hip and knee at the same time.

Attempting these exercises in the first 2 weeks will simply result in having less time and energy to focus on the real task of range of motion recovery for that period. You can learn more about a proper exercise progression here.

Home Knee Replacement Exercises

There are many knee replacement exercises that can and should be performed in the home. Why pay for access to fancy equipment and machines when you lack a basic level of strength in your knee and you are still working on range? Paying 40 dollars for a copay, to have someone stretch your knee on a mat when there are easy exercises you could do at home is a waste of money.

Home knee replacement exercises should accomplish three goals

1) Range of motion to 120-125
2) Basic strength as evidenced by ability to do basic exercise group 4x/ day with 2 1/2 lb ankle weights
3) Begin functional mobility exercises

Paying for outpatient knee replacement therapy makes much more sense after you have completed these three goals. You’ll get much more bang for the buck from your outpatient therapy treatment program.

 Knee Replacement Exercises To Avoid

No matter what, try to avoid using an upright stationary bike to increase your knee range of motion, especially a Schwinn Airdyne. Schwinn Airdyne’s have a large fan in front and levers for your arms that allow you to push and pull with the leg motion.

The problem with this piece of equipment is that the rotation builds up momentum that cannot be easily stopped. This can cause you to inadvertently push the knee too far into flexion causing a sharp pain that can linger for 48 hours. This will put your recovery on hold while adding to your overall pain and frustration.

A regular upright exercise bike is not much better. It lacks precision control to slowly to methodical advance knee range of motion.

Another exercise to avoid is standing squats in the first 2 weeks or so. If you can not do a straight leg raise by yourself with some light wt., there is no way I want you using your post surgical knee to lower and raise your entire body weight which is of course much more than a light ankle wt. (2 1/2lb). This is a simple case of too much too soon.

Knee Replacement Exercise Equipment

The best exercise equipment to have in the home are as follows:

  • Some sort of a low friction board on which to slide your leg/foot.
  • An adjustable ankle weight (comes in a box with 2 weight cuffs that total 2 1/2lb each but have adjustable elements like a slug or little sand bag that allows you to modulate the weight of the cuff from 1- 2 1/2lb)
  • A towel folded lengthwise and then rolled (Put duck tape or rubber bands around it to keep it in a roll)
  • A strap to assist in knee range of motion or the Recovery bar-a tool specifically designed for promoting quick knee replacement range of motion recovery.
  • Re-usable Cold Pack for reduction of swelling and pain relief

Access to a stationary bike once you have gained back the proper range of motion to safely perform the exercise is a great help. Of course you can always go to a gym or rehab center if needed.

For explanation of how these can be used to accelerate your recovery from a knee replacement. Check out my book that explains the ins and outs of speedy recovery.