After you have a total knee replacement, one of your main goals is to regain the range of motion at your knee so that you can return to your everyday activities. Your range of motion refers to how far and in which directions you’re able to move your knee, and it impacts everything from walking and going up and down stairs to getting in and out of a car. After your surgery, your healthcare team will provide you with information about regaining your range of motion and body positioning, as well as a home exercise program to follow based on your needs. Below are a few examples of the type of instruction you might receive. Remember that every case is unique, and it’s critical that you follow the guidelines provided by your surgeon and physical therapist for a successful outcome after your surgery. Perform your exercises every day as recommended by your surgeon or therapist.
Management of swelling
Swelling can be prevented by elevating the operated leg when resting in bed. When elevating the leg, the ankle should be above the level of the heart and the knee must be straight.
Position at rest
The position of your body while you’re resting is one of the most important things to be aware of during your recovery phase. When you’re lying down in bed, place a towel roll under your operated heel so that your knee is straight, as tolerated. Do not put a towel roll or pillow under your operated knee.
Seated knee exercise
This exercise improves the mobility of your knee joint. Sit up tall on the edge of a bed or firm surface with your thighs supported and your foot resting on the floor. You can put a paper towel or pillow case under your foot on the operated side, to help it slide more easily:
Slide your foot on the paper towel or pillow case as far back as you can, as tolerated. You should feel a slight stretch in the front of your operated knee:
Pause, then slowly return to the starting position.
Stair stretch exercise
This exercise improves the mobility of your knee joint as well. Holding onto a rail, place your foot on a step with your operated knee bent. Move your hips forward to gently increase the bend in your knee. You should feel a slight stretch in the front of your operated knee:
Hold the stretch, then move your hips back to release. If you don’t have stairs your therapist can suggest modifications for you to achieve similar results with a different exercise.
These are some general guidelines, but every person is different. Always make sure that you follow your surgeon’s instructions.
Rupali Joshi is a physical therapist with the Rehabilitation Department at Hospital for Special Surgery.