After joint replacement surgery, it’s important to strike a balance between getting active and avoiding excessive stress on the new joint. While taking it easy and resting may be tempting, staying inactive for too long can lead to muscle atrophy and slow recovery.
Engaging in the right exercises during rehabilitation is crucial for regaining strength, flexibility, and balance while ensuring that the new joint remains protected. Although this article provides a general guide for rehab after a knee replacement or hip replacement, we encourage you to work with your care providers at Northwest Extremity Specialists to tailor a suitable exercise program for your specific needs and limitations.
Components of a Well-Rounded Exercise Routine
Cardio workouts help improve heart health, circulation, and stamina. Low-impact options such as stationary cycling, water aerobics, and brisk walking are excellent choices for joint replacement patients.
Strengthening the muscles around the replaced joint provides support and stability. Focus on exercises that target the glutes, core, quadriceps, and hamstrings.
Flexibility and Range of Motion
Gentle stretching exercises can help with flexibility and range of motion. Perform stretches for all major muscle groups, holding each stretch for 15-30 seconds. Yoga and Pilates are also beneficial in this regard.
Balance and Proprioception
Enhancing balance and proprioception (awareness of your body's position in space) is essential for preventing falls and building confidence in your movements. Using a balance board, standing on one leg, or doing heel-to-toe walking exercises can be helpful.
Exercises Often Recommended After a Knee Replacement
Straight Leg Raises
Lie on your back with your legs extended and your unaffected knee slightly bent for support. Tighten your quadriceps (front thigh muscles) of the operated leg and slowly lift it a few inches off the ground. Keep your toes pointed towards the ceiling. Hold this position for a few seconds, then lower your leg with control. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each leg. This exercise helps strengthen the quadriceps without putting excessive strain on the knee joint.
Seated Knee Extensions
Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Place a rolled-up towel or a small foam roller under your operated thigh for support. Slowly extend the operated leg out in front of you, trying to straighten the knee as much as possible without causing discomfort. Hold the extended position for a few seconds before slowly lowering the foot back to the ground. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each leg. Seated knee extensions help improve the range of motion in the knee joint and strengthen the quadriceps.
Lie on your back with your legs extended. Slowly slide your operated heel towards your buttocks by bending your knee. Hold the bent-knee position for a few seconds and then gently slide the foot back to the starting position. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each leg. Heel slides help improve knee flexion and mobility.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold onto a stable surface for support, such as a chair or countertop. Slowly bend your knees and lower your body a few inches, as if you were about to sit in a chair. Keep your back straight and your weight on your heels. Hold the squat position for a few seconds and then rise back to standing. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. Mini squats help strengthen the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes while promoting stability in the knee joint.
Exercises Often Recommended After a Hip Replacement
Lie on your unaffected side with your legs extended. Keep your body straight and your lower leg slightly bent for support. Engage your core muscles and lift the top leg upwards while keeping it straight. Hold the lifted position for a few seconds, ensuring your hip remains aligned and your body doesn't roll forward or backward. Slowly lower the leg back down. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each leg. Hip abduction exercises target the hip abductor muscles, which are important for hip stability and balance.
Lie on your unaffected side with your knees bent and your feet together. Keeping your feet touching, open your knees like a clamshell while maintaining the alignment of your hips and shoulders. Hold the open position for a few seconds before closing your knees together. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each side. Clamshells help activate the hip abductors and external rotators crucial for hip strength and mobility.
Hip Flexion and Extension
Stand behind a stable surface, such as a chair or countertop, and hold onto it for support. Slowly lift your operated leg forward, bending at the hip, and then return to the starting position. Next, lift your leg backward, extend it at the hip, and return to the starting position. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each leg. Hip flexion and extension exercises help improve the range of motion and strengthen the hip flexor and extensor muscles.
Stand in front of a step or sturdy platform. Step up onto the platform with your leg that contains the replaced joint, and then bring your unaffected leg up to meet it. Step back down with your unaffected leg first, followed by your operated leg. Repeat the step-up with the same leg for 10-15 repetitions before switching to the other leg. Perform 2-3 sets on each leg. Step-ups help build strength in the hip, thigh, and gluteal muscles, promoting better hip stability and function.