Knee surgery is a common procedure that can be used to treat a variety of knee injuries and conditions. After surgery, it is important to begin rehabilitation exercises as soon as possible to restore strength and range of motion. There are many different exercises that can be performed following knee surgery, but some are more beneficial than others. The best rehabilitation exercises after knee surgery vary depending on the individual’s specific condition and injury.

Range of Motion Exercises

Range of motion exercises help improve the range of motion in your knee after surgery. This is important because it will help you regain mobility and flexibility in your knee. There are a number of different exercises that you can do to improve your range of motion, and your doctor or physical therapist can help you choose the right exercises for you. Make sure to follow their instructions closely, and be patient as you work to regain full range of motion in your knee.

Knee straightening stretch (sitting knee extension)

This stretch is designed to improve the range of motion in your knee by stretching the quadriceps muscles. To do it, sit with one leg bent and the other straight out in front of you. Grasp the ankle of the straight leg and pull it towards your butt until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds then switch legs.

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Knee bending stretch (sitting knee flexion)

This type of stretch is used to increase the range of motion in the knee joint. It can be done by sitting down with your back straight, and then bending your knee until your foot comes close to your butt. You should feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold the position for about 30 seconds, and then release. Repeat 3 times.

Strength Exercises

Strength exercises can help to improve the function and stability of the knee following surgery. Strengthening the muscles around the knee can help to improve stability and movement, which can help to reduce the risk of further injury. Exercises that target the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes are typically recommended, as these muscles play a key role in knee stability.

Ankle pumps and circles

Ankle pumps and circles are exercises that help to improve knee strength. They are simple exercises that can be done at home with little to no equipment. Ankle pumps involve flexing and pointing your toes, while circles require you to move your ankles in a circular motion. These exercises help to strengthen the muscles around your knee, which can help to protect your joint from injury. They also help to improve flexibility and circulation in your feet and ankles.

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Thigh squeezes (quadriceps sets)

A quadriceps set is a simple exercise that can help to improve the strength of your knee. To perform the exercise, you will need to sit with your back against a wall and your feet flat on the ground. Bring your left ankle up so that your left thigh is parallel to the ground. Hold for five seconds, and then release. Repeat this process with your right ankle.

Leg slides (abduction/adduction)

The leg slides are a great way to improve knee strength and stability. They work the abductors and adductors of the legs, as well as the quadriceps and hamstrings. To do them, lie on your back on the floor and place your feet together. Keeping your core engaged, slide your left leg out to the side, then slowly bring it back in. Repeat with the right leg.

Straight leg raises

Straight leg raises are a common exercise used to target the quadriceps muscles of the thigh. The exercise is performed by lying flat on your back on the floor and then lifting one leg at a time straight up into the air. This exercise can be made more challenging by adding resistance, such as by holding a weight in your hand while performing the lift.

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Lying kicks (short arc quadriceps)

This exercise is designed to target the quadriceps muscles. To do this, you will need to lie on your back on the floor and then extend one leg up towards the ceiling. You will then want to use your quadriceps muscles to kick your leg towards the ceiling. Make sure to keep your abdominal muscles pulled in so that you do not put any stress on your back. Repeat this exercise 10-12 times before switching legs.

Heel slides (hip and knee flexion)

To do heel slides, you will need to lie down on your back with both legs straight. Place a weight or resistance band around your ankles, and then slowly lift your heels off the ground. Keeping your hips and knees flexed, slide your feet along the ground towards your butt. Pause for a second, and then reverse the motion, sliding your feet back to the starting position.

Why are these exercises important?

The purpose of these exercise after knee surgery is to improve the range of motion and strength in the knee joint. Exercises can help reduce stiffness and swelling in the joint, which can improve function and mobility. Exercises may also help to prevent scar tissue from forming around the joint.


When can I start rehabilitation exercises after knee surgery?

The timeline for starting rehabilitation exercises varies depending on the type of knee surgery and your individual recovery. Generally, you should consult with your surgeon and physical therapist, who will create a tailored plan for you. In some cases, gentle exercises may begin within a few days post-surgery, while others may require waiting several weeks.

How long should I continue doing rehabilitation exercises after knee surgery?

The duration of your rehabilitation program will depend on your specific surgery, progress, and goals. Typically, rehabilitation exercises can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Your physical therapist will continually assess your progress and adjust your program as needed.

Can I perform these exercises at home, or do I need to go to a physical therapy clinic?

Many rehabilitation exercises can be performed at home with minimal equipment. However, it is crucial to follow the guidance of your physical therapist, who may recommend a combination of at-home exercises and supervised sessions at a clinic to ensure proper form and monitor progress.

How often should I do these exercises to maximize recovery?

The frequency of your rehabilitation exercises will be determined by your physical therapist based on your specific needs and recovery progress. Generally, you might be asked to perform exercises daily or several times a week.

Are there any specific exercises I should avoid after my type of knee surgery?

Your surgeon and physical therapist will advise you on which exercises to avoid based on your specific surgery and recovery status. It is crucial to follow their recommendations to minimize the risk of complications and ensure a safe recovery.

How can I tell if I’m making progress with my rehabilitation exercises?

Progress in rehabilitation can be measured through improvements in pain, swelling, range of motion, strength, and functional mobility. Your physical therapist will regularly assess these factors and provide feedback on your progress.

Can I perform regular daily activities while participating in a rehabilitation program?

Your ability to perform daily activities during rehabilitation depends on the type of surgery and your recovery progress. Your physical therapist and surgeon will provide guidance on which activities are safe to perform and when to gradually reintroduce certain activities.

What if I experience pain or discomfort while doing these exercises?

Mild discomfort during rehabilitation exercises can be normal, but if you experience significant pain, stop the exercise and consult your physical therapist. They may need to adjust your exercise program to ensure safety and effectiveness.

How do I know when it’s safe to increase the intensity or difficulty of the exercises?

Your physical therapist will monitor your progress and advise when it is appropriate to increase the intensity or difficulty of your exercises. Never increase the intensity without consulting your therapist, as doing so could lead to injury or complications.

What is the role of my physical therapist in guiding and monitoring my rehabilitation program after knee surgery?

Your physical therapist plays a crucial role in creating a personalized rehabilitation program, teaching you the proper techniques for each exercise, monitoring your progress, and adjusting your program as needed. They also provide valuable guidance on safely returning to daily activities and preventing future injuries.


  • Moffet, H., Collet, J.P., Shapiro, S.H., Paradis, G., Marquis, F. and Roy, L., 2004. Effectiveness of intensive rehabilitation on functional ability and quality of life after first total knee arthroplasty: a single-blind randomized controlled trial. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation, 85(4), pp.546-556.
  • Petterson, S.C., Mizner, R.L., Stevens, J.E., Raisis, L.E.O., Bodenstab, A., Newcomb, W. and Snyder‐Mackler, L., 2009. Improved function from progressive strengthening interventions after total knee arthroplasty: a randomized clinical trial with an imbedded prospective cohort. Arthritis Care & Research, 61(2), pp.174-183.
  • French, H.P., Cusack, T., Brennan, A., Caffrey, A., Conroy, R., Cuddy, V., FitzGerald, O.M., Gilsenan, C., Kane, D., O’Connell, P.G. and White, B., 2013. Exercise and manual physiotherapy arthritis research trial (EMPART) for osteoarthritis of the hip: a multicenter randomized controlled trial. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation, 94(2), pp.302-314.
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