Early Post-Operative Knee Exercises (Part 1 of 2)

Early and effective rehabilitation is critical for post-operative knees. Our patients begin physical therapy Day One after surgery, and see our StoneFit rehab team every day for (at least) the first two weeks following. This strategy optimizes their outcomes and avoids unnecessary losses of range of motion, strength, or cardiovascular fitness. 

Post Operative Knee Exercises

Featured below are some of our go-to post-operative exercises. They will provide insights into our early rehabilitation process and our methodology in helping you reach your goals These exercises are just examples, as each patient in the clinic is given an individualized program tailored to their surgery specifics, current functional status, and long-term goals. 

Quad Sets

The quad set is designed to improve the neuromotor control of your quadricep and enhance how well your nerves and muscles are communicating after surgery. This process can be impaired by post-surgery swelling, so regaining this function is a crucial step towards recovery. 

Performance Instructions: 

  • Lay on your back with a rolled towel under your knee. 
  • Focus on contracting or “squeezing” your quadricep by driving the back of your knee into the towel. You can also focus on trying to lift your heel from the table while maintaining contact with the towel. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds, then relax.

Post Knee Surgery Exercise_ Quad Sets

Straight Leg Raise

Once the quad set is mastered, we increase quadricep strength with a straight leg raise. 

Performance Instructions: 

  • Begin in a quad set position. 
  • While maintaining full quadricep contraction, raise your involved leg in a controlled manner until it is even with your uninvolved leg. 
  • Pause, then slowly return the leg to the starting position. It is imperative to maintain quadricep contraction throughout the motion. 

Post Knee Surgery Exercise_ Straight Leg Raise

Ankle Pumps

Ankle pumps are utilized to assist in swelling managed post-operatively. Ideally, these are performed with the foot elevated above heart level. 

Performance Instructions: Point and flex your ankle back and forth to increased calf action, assist in moving fluid from your leg to your heart, and reduce swelling. 

Post Knee Surgery Exercise_ Ankle Pumps

Side-Lying Hip Abduction

This exercise strengthens your gluteus medius muscle, which plays an important role in single-leg stance stability for walking, running, and stair navigation. This movement is designed to help avoid atrophy of your hip abductor muscles during the non-weight-bearing or partial-weight-bearing phases of your recovery from surgery. 

Performance Instructions: 

  • Lie on your side with your surgical leg on top. 
  • Perform a quad set (as above), then lift your leg towards the ceiling. You should feel the muscles in the back of your hip working. 

Post Knee Surgery Exercise_ Side-Lying Hip Abduction

Post-operative patients should never feel like they are losing fitness during their recovery. If your fitness and recovery goals are not aligned with your current provider's, our StoneFit rehabilitation team is here to help you optimize your surgical outcomes and meet your fitness goals along the way! Please contact us at (415) 563-3110 to arrange a one-on-one appointment. For more effective post-op knee exercises, check out part two of our blog post series

-Your StoneFit Rehabilitation Team 

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In-person and virtual physical therapy sessions available 


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Saving My Knee Guide

Saving My Knee Guide
Learn about procedures that can help you return to sports & delay or avoid an artificial knee replacement.