Knees are one of the most commonly replaced joints that surgeons work with. It’s no surprise with how much weight and activity we expose our delicate knees to on a daily basis. Over time, cartilage can wear out, tendons and ligaments can become thin and snap, and the bones may start to grind against each other with every slight movement.
If your doctor has recommended total knee replacement as a remedy for your knee pain, physical therapy before and after the surgery is one of the best ways to support your knee health long-term. Knee surgery can seem scary, and you may be wondering if you will ever feel the same afterward. However, with expert assistance and a physical therapy plan that is tailored to you, you can regain your knee strength and get back to a normal level of functioning.
How Physical Therapy Can Help After Knee Replacement Surgery
Although it may seem a bit counterintuitive, exercising your knee as soon after surgery as you can (within one day) will help it heal quicker and better than rest and relaxation will. After your surgery, a physical therapist may visit your room and have you perform a few light exercises to help your knee heal. We recommend waiting for a professional to show you the proper techniques so your wound doesn’t reopen or you don’t reinjure your knee.
After you are released from hospital care, you may have to seek out physical therapy on your own. Visiting a professional therapist instead of trying to stretch and bend your leg on your own is the best way to help your knee recover well. In the first two weeks after surgery, your goal is to focus on wound care, managing pain, reducing the swelling, and progressing to walking with an assistive device such as walker, crutches, or a cane.
Once you feel comfortable with this level of motion, your physical therapist will teach you different techniques for safely restoring your range of motion, strength, balance, and function. You may focus on sitting, standing, walking, and even climbing stairs in order to perform your normal daily activities while your knee continues to heal. Strengthening exercises can help the muscles around your knee support the joint enough to give you the ability to walk without an assistive device.
When you can confidently walk on your own, you may think physical therapy is complete. However, continued therapy is necessary for fully getting used to your new normal.
Balance training with a physical therapist will help your knee properly respond in less than ideal situations, such as walking on uneven ground, navigating slippery walkways, or stopping suddenly while walking. Twisting motions can also be helpful for teaching your body to rotate and turn without pain. Balancing with your knee and maintaining control are other actions your physical therapist can help you achieve.
Lastly, your physical therapist can help you restore function to your knee for job-specific activities you may have to perform. Climbing a ladder, sports-related movements, and other physically demanding job skills may require further physical therapy to help keep your new knee safe from injury.
Stretching After Knee Surgery
Right after surgery, a physical therapist will walk you through a few light stretches and movements to initiate healing and regain strength. You may lay flat on your back and flex your quadriceps to remind your muscles how to control your leg movements. Then, you may try lifting your leg off the bed while keeping it as straight as possible. Pumping your ankle is another way to restore movement to your knee and prevent scar tissue from hindering further movements. Repeating these motions several times until your muscles become fatigued is the best way to retrain your knee for movement again.
Knee bends are the next step in knee recovery. Bending the knee while lying flat on the bed and while sitting in a chair will help your knee move correctly when moving on to the next step—walking. Walking slowly for short distances with a supportive device is the end goal for the first phase of recovery. Your physical therapist will provide tips on how much pressure you can apply to help strengthen but not reinjure the knee while performing these activities.
Once you have mastered the above stretches, your physical therapist can help you advance to stair climbing, resistance training, and standing leg bends. If your knee swells after performing any activities, you can manage the swelling with ice and elevation.
How Physical Therapy can Help Before Knee Replacement Surgery
While most people understand that physical therapy is necessary for after a total knee replacement surgery, many people don’t know that therapy before the surgery can be additionally beneficial. A physical therapist can help get your knee to a strong and healthy place before the surgery, resulting in a shorter recovery time afterward.
A physical therapist can also show you how to use assistive walking devices beforehand so you are already used to handling one when you must rely on one after the surgery. They may even offer tips on how to make your home as risk-free as possible so you aren’t as prone to slips, trips, and falls after returning from the hospital. For example, removing tripping hazards, securing rugs, and placing heavily used items within reach are all ways to organize your home for easier functionality after you return from surgery.
Other healthy lifestyle choices you can make before surgery are quitting smoking and eating a healthy and well-balanced diet. These two actions can help your body recover faster and support your overall health.
The best-case scenario is that physical therapy before knee surgery is so successful that you don’t need surgery to address your knee pain. Regardless, physical therapy before you get to the point of needing surgery is recommended for all types of knee pain. You don’t have to accept knee pain as a normal part of aging. See the experts at Synergy PT today for the best knee care for before and after surgery.