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Home exercise program: Knee exercises after knee replacement surgery

  • Once you return home, exercise is still important to prevent complications and to build strength, as well as improve the motion of your knee. This will help you to increase your activity level to what it was before surgery.

    Your leg muscles probably feel weak because you didn't use them much with your knee problems. Surgery corrected the knee problem.

    A regular exercise program

    A regular exercise program will strengthen the weakened muscles. Your success with rehabilitation largely depends on your commitment to follow the exercise program developed by your therapists.

    Ideally, you should exercise two to three times a day, every day, after surgery. 

    Complete each exercise 10 times. If you are comfortable with the exercise, increase the repetitions by five times each week, until you reach 20 repetitions:

    • week one: 10 repetitions
    • week two: 15 repetitions
    • week three: 20 repetitions

    Follow specific directions given to you by your surgeon, therapist or nurse.

    For the most comfort, do your exercises lying down. Your bed is an excellent place to do your exercises.

    Ankle pumps and circles

    Ankle pumps and circles

    Bend both your ankles up, pulling your toes toward you, then bend both your ankles down, pointing your toes away from you. In addition, rotate each foot clockwise and counterclockwise, keeping your toes pointed toward the ceiling.


    Thigh squeezes (quadriceps sets)

    Thigh squeezes (quadriceps sets)

    Tighten the muscles on the front of your thigh by pushing the back of your knee down into the bed. Hold for 5 seconds and relax. Repeat with opposite leg.


    Heel slides (hip and knee flexion)

    Heel slides (hip and knee flexion)

    Bend your hip and knee by sliding your heel up toward your buttocks while keeping your heel on the bed. Slide your heel back down to the starting position. Keep your kneecap pointed up toward the ceiling during the exercise. You may want to use a plastic bag under your heel to help it slide easier. Repeat with opposite leg.


    Leg slides (abduction/adduction)

    Leg slides (abduction/adduction)

    Slide your leg out to the side, keeping your kneecap pointed up toward the ceiling. Slide your leg back to return to the starting position. You may want to use a plastic bag under your heel to help it slide easier. Repeat with opposite leg.


    Lying kicks (short arc quadriceps)

    Lying kicks (short arc quadriceps)

    Lie on your back with a 3-pound coffee can or rolled blanket under your knee. Straighten your knee. Hold for 5 seconds. Slowly lower your leg down and relax. The back of your knee should stay in contact with the can/blanket during the exercise. Repeat with opposite leg.


    Straight leg raises

    Straight leg raises

    Bend one of your legs with your foot flat on the bed. Raise your opposite leg up (about 12 inches), keeping your knee straight. Hold briefly. Progress to holding for 5 seconds. Slowly lower your leg down and relax. Repeat with opposite leg.


    Knee bending (sitting knee flexion)

    Knee bending (sitting knee flexion)

    Sit on a chair. Bend your knee back as much as you can. Hold for _________ seconds. Return to the starting position and relax. Repeat 5 times.


    Prolonged knee stretch

    Prolonged knee stretch

    Sit on a chair. Bend your knee back as much as you can. Scoot your body forward on the chair to increase the stretch. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.


    Sitting kicks (long arc quads)

    Sitting kicks (long arc quads)

    Sit in a sturdy chair. Lift your foot, straightening your knee as much as possible. Try to keep your knees level, as if you were
    holding a tray on your lap. Hold for 5 seconds. Slowly lower your leg down and relax. Return to the starting position and
    repeat with opposite leg.


    Knee straightening stretch

    Knee straightening stretch

    Work on straightening your surgical knee for 10 minutes. Sit on a sturdy chair with your heel up on another chair, or a footstool, in front of you. You should feel a stretch on the back of your knee. You can do thigh squeezes while you sit in this position to increase the stretch.


    Knee dangling/swinging

    Knee dangling/swinging

    Sit on a bed so that your feet will not touch the floor. Allow your knees to bend. Swing your surgical leg back and forth so that you feel a gently rebounding sensation. Do this for 2 to 3 minutes.


    Optional knee exercises

    Do these exercises only if instructed by a therapist or surgeon.

    Hamstring sets

    Hamstring sets (heel digs)

    Bend your surgical knee a little and tighten the muscle on the back of your thigh by digging your heel into the bed. Hold for 5 seconds.


    Optional: Buttocks squeezes (gluteal sets)

    Buttocks squeezes (gluteal sets)

    Tighten your buttocks muscles by squeezing the muscles together. Hold for 5 seconds and relax.


    Walking

    Besides your exercise program, you must leave time for walking. Walking helps build your strength and endurance.

    Walk around your home three to five times each day. Trips to the bathroom or kitchen are not enough. Progress to walking outside and in the community.

    Important: Talk with your therapist about how far you should walk each day so you don't overdo it.

  • Tip

    Make sure to balance your activities with periods of rest.

    Important

    Remember to also continue doing the breathing exercises after your surgery.


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