Physical Therapy for Total Knee Replacement Patients

Health & Medical Blog

Joint replacement procedures are major surgeries that require careful recovery planning for patients to get the best outcomes. Total knee replacement patients have often dealt with pain, stiffness, and loss of range of motion in their knees for months or years before they get their new knees. 

Physical therapy to restore function in the new joint is a vital part of the recovery process for total knee patients.  

Before Surgery

Many total knee patients go through physical therapy for weeks or months before they have their surgeries. This may seem counterproductive — why would you work a joint you're going to have replaced? But the better shape patients are in prior to surgery, the better their outcomes. 

One way physical therapy before total knee replacement can help is by reducing the chance of the patient needing to stay in a short-term care facility after surgery. Physical therapy before surgery may focus on improving the strength of the knee joint. Therapy prior to the procedure can also teach patients how to use a walker or other assistive device so it's easier after surgery.

Early Recovery

Some total knee replacement patients go home the day of surgery, but others stay in the hospital for a few nights. Some patients go into short-term care, such as a skilled nursing facility, for a few days to a few weeks. While most total knee patients experience pain and stiffness after surgery, it's important for them to get moving as soon as possible.

Knee replacement patients will see a physical therapist at least once in the hospital before they go home to recover. In the hospital, therapists teach total knee patients how to care for their incision, how to alleviate swelling with ice, elevation, and compression, and how to walk with a walker and crutches so they can get around once they're home.

The initial goals for knee replacements are for patients to minimize their pain and swelling, heal the surgical incision, and get walking. Most patients get in-home physical therapy for the first couple of weeks. Physical therapists primarily help knee patients with increasing their range of motion and strength in the first weeks after surgery. 

Later Recovery

Knee replacement patients typically need at least six to eight weeks after surgery. Swelling and general pain should be at a minimum a few weeks after surgery, though knee exercises and therapy sessions can still be uncomfortable as the knee continues to heal. 

Therapists focus on restoring normal function in the new knee joint during the later weeks of therapy after the procedure. Patients will continue to do exercises that improve their range of motion and strengthens their muscles—both in and out of physical therapy, but functional training to get patients back to the activities they were doing at work and home before their knee pain stopped them.


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