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Joint Replacement Rehab


Published February 15, 2022

A total knee replacement can allow you to finally take back your mobility and get on with the active lifestyle you once enjoyed. But just like all surgeries, the weeks and months afterward can be a difficult time for the body.

While your body will need proper rest, your replacement knee will eventually require exercise to regain normal function – just like a normal knee. With the help of physical therapy for joint rehab, you should develop a plan to regain flexibility, mobility, and strength.

With that in mind, here is your guide to exercises after knee replacement, what to expect, and how to get started.

What To Expect Immediately After Knee Replacement Surgery

If you’re straight out of surgery, you’re probably experiencing a lot of pain – even if you’re not moving at all. Your supervising healthcare professional will give you sound advice on when you can start moving and for how long.

You might feel impatient and want to get back walking soon afterward – but be sure to observe the rest period prescribed by your physio or doctor.

Early Post-Op Exercises

The time will come when you can start engaging in some low-intensity exercises. These will be essential for building back strength – especially in your quad muscles – which attach via the patellar tendon to the knee cap.

Exercising the quads and tendons is essential for knee stability – especially in the early post-operative phase. If you ignore your prescribed exercise routine, the scar tissue from where the incision took place can become less flexible, and in some cases inhibit your ability to straighten out your knee or regain normal walking function.

Here are some knee replacement exercises to get you started.

Quad Contractions

It’s important to engage the knee muscles without overdoing it on movement. This is the perfect exercise to complete when you’re still in recovery as it teaches the muscles to contract and engage.

  • Lay flat in bed or on the floor.
  • Extend your recovering leg and bend your healthy leg at the knee.
  • Use a towel to roll up and tuck gently underneath your operated knee (Optional).
  • Contract your quad muscles and gently push down into the towel.
  • Hold for 4 seconds and then release.

Knee Extension

While still bed-bound it’s good to have a couple of go-to exercises to turn to gain back normal function. This exercise will help you bend your knee.

  • Sitting in bed, or in a chair, cross your healthy leg over so your foot is at the heel of the operated leg.
  • Try slowly bending your knee.
  • Once you reach an extremity – hold for 4 seconds before slowly easing off.
  • Repeat until your leg feels tired – or you can bend your knee the whole way.

Early Activity Exercises

Early activity is an exciting time as you begin to take back a slice of normality, moving around your home or hospital, and performing daily tasks. This is an important phase as it sets your knee up for being able to take heavier loads. Exercises after knee replacement that aim to assist in early recovery are:

Slow Walking

It sounds simple and it is. You’ll want to start with small distances – try not to fatigue your new knee too quickly. It may be tempting to jump right back into normal life but you will have to take it slow.


Hydrotherapy is an excellent way of re-training your muscles. Buoyancy while in water relieves weight and stress on your knee – allowing you to focus on regaining critical flexibility skills such as lunging and squatting. The lack of weight can also reduce any inflammation caused by early exercise routines.


While not recommended for those straight out of the postoperative phase – after a few weeks of recovery and light exercise – step-ups are a safe way to start building up your muscles again. Try to find the beginning of a staircase that has a sturdy handrail.

  • Stand facing the stairs with one hand on the handrail for support.
  • Slowly lift your operated leg – bending it at the knee and landing your foot on the first step.
  • As you step up – activate your glutes and press down as you use your quads to straighten up your leg.
  • Gently step back down until you have both feet back on the ground.
  • Remember to take this slow and controlled – and only if your physio prescribes or recommends it.

Advanced Exercises

Advanced recovery is where you can start taking more control over the exercises you perform – depending on where you are at and how comfortable you feel. Here are some more advanced aerobic activities to include in your routine:


Swimming is the perfect post-recovery exercise to optimise your knee muscles and growth resilience and muscle strength. It also helps your entire body build up key muscles that are more difficult to target via normal exercises.


Whether at the gym or on the river – rowing is a great way to improve upper body strength and quad strength without putting high pressure on the knees. Always ensure your seat is set up so your knees can bend the full 90 degrees.

Light Jogging

Once you feel your strength returning, it’s important to give your body the chance to engage in some higher intensity training in order to engage other muscle groups that may not have been active yet post knee surgery.

How Long Should You Do Exercises After Total Knee Replacement Surgery?

Your surgeon or physiotherapist will recommend the ideal amount of exercise to do post-operation. Depending on your recovery phase they may prescribe 10 to 20 minutes of exercise two or even three times per day.

Is Walking Good After Total Knee Replacement?

Walking is an important part of recovery after a total knee replacement. You will need to train your muscles to work the way they once did – which can take time and dedication. Your orthopaedic surgeon or physio will let you know how and when to begin walking after your surgery.

What Should I Avoid After Knee Replacement?

Knee replacements are the start of a new life for anyone who has struggled with knee pain or been unable to walk for some time. You might be tempted to jump straight back into life once you’re out of the hospital – but that could be dangerous. Here are some things to avoid post-surgery:

  • Intensive, high-impact sports.
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Engaging in repetitive exercises for long periods.
  • A messy floor that could trip you up!

Need A Post Knee Op Plan? Book An Appointment Today.

If you’re out of surgery and want a solid plan to get back on your feet – our team here at Integrity Physio Como Perth is waiting to assist. We offer you peace of mind with a full recovery plan and dedicated assistance to help you achieve full mobility once again. Give us a call and book an appointment today.

Leslie Trigg

Director & Senior Physiotherapist at Integrity Physiotherapy Leslie Trigg, has over 15 years of experience in clinical practice. He has graduated with a degree in Human Biology (Anatomy and Physiology) from Curtin University in 2001 and later completed a Masters of Physiotherapy in 2007. He has tremendous experience in musculoskeletal, orthopaedic, neurosurgical and sports physiotherapy. In his spare time, he enjoys swimming, listening to music and spending time with his family.