Rehabilitation After Knee Replacement Surgery

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Thousands of Americans every year are faced with the prospect of knee replacement surgery. This surgery requires a surgeon to replace some or the entire knee with artificial components. Usually, this is the last resort for many patients with chronic knee pain. Once the surgery has been performed, rehabilitation can begin as early as the same day (depending on the time of surgery). A patient may be asked to sit in the chair or the edge of the bed in order to bend the knee. Under the guidance of physical/occupational therapists the rehabilitation process can take up to six weeks for recovery.

Common Reasons for Knee Replacement

Knee replacement surgery can be necessitated by several factors. Osteoarthritis is the most common cause and is caused by normal wear and tear over the years. This causes the cartilage to wear down over time, causing bone to rub against bone resulting in inflammation and pain. Another condition that can lead to me replacement surgery is rheumatoid arthritis. The tissue around the knee becomes inflamed which deteriorates the cartilage resulting in inflammation and pain. An injury can lead to post-traumatic arthritis and can lead to deterioration and pain in the knee.


Recovery from knee replacement surgery varies from patient to patient and can start as early as the same day as surgery. A patient will work with a physical therapist to work on strengthening the area around the knee as well as range of motion. Exercises such as: ankle pumps, quadriceps steps, leg extensions, and leg lifts can all be done in the hospital in bed. Your surgeon or physical therapist can utilize a Continuous Passive Motion (CPM) machine to help with range of motion exercises. These devices can be used in the hospital, rehab center, or in a patient’s home. Once discharged, and exercise regiment (designed by your therapist or surgeon) should be followed. These exercises will be designed to strengthen the knee area, increase stability, and improve range of motion in the knee.  Eventually, you will be able to increase the intensity of your workout by adding ankle weights. Patients often utilize an exercise bike for their rehab. Post exercise pain is normal, so ice and elevation should be utilized. If this pain becomes constant you should consult your surgeon or physical therapist. An occupational therapist may be utilized to help a patient with their every day chores, such as dressing and every day activities.

Assistive Technology and Accessories

After surgery, many surgeons want their patients to start therapy immediately and they will need assistance getting around. This will depend on each patient’s pain threshold. A Continuous Passive Motion (CPM) machine can easily be used in a hospital bed or in a patient’s house. This attaches to the leg and allows for progressive therapy to increase the range of motion in the repaired knee. The next step is usually walking with the assistance of a walker or crutches (if the patient has enough upper body strength). Once recovery has progressed to the point where the patient can walk securely, they can progress to a cane. Other aids that can assist in the rehabilitation process include elastic resistance bands (of varying resistance) and ankle weights. These add resistance and can increase exercise intensity and help strengthen muscles around the knee, increasing stability. A stationary bike is ideal for home therapy since it strengthens and improves range of motion in the knee. Since post operation pain is common, a cold therapy system is a good option. These are systems that continuously provide cold therapy to help with post operative pain and swelling, facilitating quicker healing. They use therapy pads specifically designed for the affected area (knee, foot, and ankle). Compression wraps and ice compresses can help coping with post exercise pain.


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