Prep For Knee Replacement Surgery

Prep For Knee Replacement Surgery

This content was updated for accuracy and relevance on 07/03/23

Preparing For Knee Replacement Surgery At Home

Preparing for knee replacement surgery can be a stressful process, with a lot of anxiety around the major surgery. Preparing for it now can help make the entire process much smoother, easier, and faster. Prehab (rehabilitation before surgery) is critical to properly prepare for knee surgery, and there are even some knee exercises you can do at home! Before you do any, however, we do recommend that you speak with a physical therapist or your surgeon first (prior to any new preoperative exercise program).

Understanding knee replacement surgery

Before diving into how to prep for knee surgery, it’s important to understand what the operation is like. Knee replacement surgery, also known as total knee replacement surgery or knee arthroplasty, aims to alleviate severe knee and joint pain caused by conditions like knee arthritis. It can be beneficial, and at times necessary, for individuals living with excruciating discomfort that hinders their everyday activities

How to best prepare for knee replacement surgery

Start planning early. Consider what life will be like after the knee replacement, and what things you may have to do differently. For example, is your home multiple floors, possibly requiring safety railings or a bed on the lower floor? Will everyday items like your toothbrush be easy enough to reach? The more precautions you take now, the better off you’ll be afterward. It will be less stressful if prepared in advance. Ask your orthopedic surgeon all the questions you have, and take notes so you’ll have all the information you need.

Working with a physical therapist to help build strength prior to your knee surgery can help speed up recovery after the surgery. Your therapist can also help you practice all the knee exercises that you’ll be performing after surgery, such as walking with a gait device such as crutches or a walker. Getting comfortable with these mobilization devices prior to your knee replacement surgery will make it much easier to start using them immediately afterward.

What should you NOT do before surgery?

Whether you’re getting a total knee replacement, a partial knee replacement, or knee implants, try to stay as healthy as possible. If you’re a smoker, you may want to consider quitting, since it can slow your recovery and raise chances of infection and any complications. Eat the right nutrition and keep moving if your doctor advises it. Getting strong can be extremely beneficial in many ways. For example, if you work on upper body strength with things like push-ups and dips, this can help make mobilization on a walker or crutches much easier. Being a healthy weight can help lessen the weight on your knee joint and help reduce severe knee pain.

The role of exercise in recovery

Exercise plays a pivotal role in ensuring a smooth recovery post-surgery. Working closely with a physical therapist, you can develop a plan of knee-strengthening exercises tailored to your needs. These exercises are designed to bolster muscle strength, enhance knee joint flexibility, and promote overall physical well-being. Strengthening the muscles around the joint can also be crucial for chronic knee pain management, even with conditions like knee arthritis.

What are some exercises that can be done?

There are a variety of prehab exercises for mobility and flexibility for you to perform, which can help with injury prevention.

We recommend speaking with your physician or a physical therapist before performing these, as a therapist can help make sure you’re doing them with proper form and select the best exercises for your unique needs.

    • Squats: For this movement, hold onto something if you need help with balance. While keeping your feet parallel and about hip-length apart, bend your knees and lower your torso. Try to keep your back straight and squeeze your glutes when you get back to the starting position.
    • Heel Slides: With heel slides, start by lying on your back. Slowly and with control, straighten your legs out fully. Then bend your knee by slowly sliding your heel towards the buttocks.
    • Quad Sets: Sit or lie down, with your legs straight out in front of you. Then, tighten your quadriceps. Think of the back of the knee as pressing down to the floor. Tighten that muscle on top of your thigh and hold for 5-10 seconds
    • Short Arc Quads: Prop your leg up, with either a foam roller or towel placed under your knee. Slowly straighten the knee you intend to have surgery on by lifting your foot up, but still continue to keep your thigh/knee on the rolled towel. Lift, tighten, then bring back.
    • Clamshells: Lie on your side, with your heels together, and the surgical knee pointing towards the ceiling. Keeping the heels together, open and close your legs like a clamshell. Complete 5-15 repetitions, for up to 3 sets.
    • Foam Rolling: There are many benefits of foam rolling, but your positioning on a foam roller will depend on what type of surgery you had or are going to have. Talk with your physical therapist to get the best foam rolling tips for your needs.

How can physical therapy help?

When it comes to how to prepare for knee replacement surgery, working with a physical therapist can be effective. There are so many benefits to seeing a Physical Therapist before a major surgery. Prehabilitation can be just as important as rehab itself. It’s been proven to help:

    1. minimize the pain of recovery from a surgical procedure
    2. streamline the post-op plan of scheduling
    3. improve functional mobility & strength
    4. get a head start on post-op exercises prior to surgery
    5. patients can become familiar with their post-op physical therapist

The Ivy Prehab Rehabilitation Physical Therapy plan is an investment in your post-op recovery. As our patient, you’ll receive concierge care, from your orthopedic surgeon to the physical therapist. You’ll receive a detailed and structured prehab program consisting of daily exercises to prepare you for surgery and help you achieve your goals for your new knee.  You can book your appointment by clicking here.

Article by Holly Lookabaugh-Deur, PT, DSc, GCS, CEEAA

Holly Lookabaugh-Deur, PT, DSc, GCS, CEEAA is a practicing physical therapist and a partner and Director of Clinical Services at Ivy Rehab Network. Deur is board certified as a geriatric clinical specialist and certified exercise expert for aging adults with more than 35 years of clinical experience.  She is certified as an aquatic and oncology rehabilitation specialist and serves as adjunct faculty at Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University.  


The medical information contained herein is provided as an information resource only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultation with healthcare professionals. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. IvyRehab Network, Inc. disclaims any and all responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained herein.

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