Knee replacement surgery is a very successful option for restoring function and reducing pain in a knee joint that has been severely damaged by arthritis.

But in order to reap the benefits of your new knee, you need to dedicate yourself to a rehabilitation program after surgery.

After a knee replacement, you can expect to be given a rehabilitation program to help you strengthen your new knee. Read more: What to Expect After Knee Replacement

If you faithfully follow the plan set out for you by your doctor or physical therapist, you can:

  • Be mobile and pain-free faster
  • Reduce the chances for a complication after surgery

See Total Knee Replacement Surgery Recovery

The exercises below focus on helping you strengthen your quadriceps muscle in the front of the thigh, often referred to as your quads. The quads are essential to knee stability and movement. They keep the knee from buckling and enable standing and walking.

It’s usually recommended that these exercises be done with 10 or 15 repetitions a few times a day. Always check with your doctor to make sure specific exercises are appropriate for your condition and situation first, and stop immediately any exercise that causes sharp pain.

  1. Quad squeezes
    • Lie on your back on the floor or in bed with your legs extended.
    • Tighten the quads in the leg with the new knee while keeping your legs straight. If it’s easier to contract the quads in both legs at the same time, that’s okay.
    • Hold the muscle squeeze for 5 seconds, then release.
  2. Short arcs
    • Lie on your back with your legs extended and a rolled up towel under your new knee, which is slightly bent.
    • Straighten your new knee so you heel lifts off the floor or bed, but your knee stays on the towel.
    • Hold for 5 seconds, then lower your heel.
  3. Heel slides
    • Lie on your back with your legs extended.
    • Bend your new knee until your foot is flat on the floor or bed, then slide your foot straight back toward your body.
    • Hold for 10 seconds, then slide your foot back down as you straighten your leg.
  4. Knee extensions
    • Sit upright in a firm chair such as a dining room chair with your feet flat on the ground.
    • Lift the leg with the new knee and straighten it as much as you can.
    • Hold for 5 second, then slowly lower it again.

You may need several weeks of healing after a knee replacement before you can do straight leg lifts. Read more: Knee Replacement Surgery Rehabilitation Exercises

  1. Straight leg lifts

    This exercise is the most challenging in this list and may not be doable until a few weeks after knee replacement surgery, when the muscle tissue has had time to heal.

    • Lie on your back, with your new knee leg straight and your other leg bent, with the foot flat on the ground or bed.
    • Slowly lift the straightened leg as high as you can comfortably.
    • Hold for 5 seconds, then lower the leg back down.

Here’s one more exercise—one that strengthens your calf and shin muscles rather than your quads, but is still very beneficial after knee replacement surgery.

Bonus exercise: Ankle pumps

  • Lie on your back with your legs extended.
  • Prop a rolled up towel under the ankle of your new knee leg.
  • Flex your foot so that your toes point up and toward your body. Hold for 5 seconds and relax.
  • Then point your toes down and away from you. Hold for 5 seconds and relax.

These are just a small portion of the many exercises that your doctor or physical therapist may recommend for you after knee replacement in order to strengthen the joint and maintain range of motion.

Learn more:

“When Can I…?” Answers for Knee Replacement Patients

Post-Surgical Knee Replacement Precautions and Tips