Exercise is a critical component of successful recovery after a partial or total joint replacement, but it’s also important that patients don’t overdo it. By following provider discharge instructions and incorporating appropriate movement into your day, you can help speed up the recovery process and increase the chances that your joint replacement outcome is positive.

Rebuilding Range of Motion Slowly

Total joint replacements, especially of the hips or knees, are major surgeries, so recovery will be slightly different for each person. In today’s modern world with the many advances in surgical technique, most patients are able to be discharged home either the day of surgery or within a day.  Patients who have a knee or hip replacement surgery are typically walking with the assistance of a walker or crutches, the day of the procedure. Continued physical therapy involving strengthening and reconditioning exercises is important, but must be ramped up slowly, to minimize post surgical swelling.

After a joint replacement surgery, patients are typically started on gait training the day of surgery. Providers provide education about the right types of exercises and stretches for building strength in and around the new joint. Stretching also helps reduce scar tissue, which can lead to problems with range of motion (how far the joint moves in various directions).

Types of Exercises That Are Appropriate

Today’s artificial joints are extremely high quality and durable,  they are made to function like natural body parts. But that means they have to be treated like your actual body parts, making regular exercise critical. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends regular exercise, even during early recovery. For a knee replacement, for example, the AAOS recommends getting 30 minutes of exercise three times a week on top of walking for the same time period each week. As you progress in your recovery, working with your surgeon and physical therapist, you can increase exercise times and intensity.

Your physical therapist or doctor will recommend specific exercises that provide critical post-surgery development for your new joint.

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Five Exercises for Total Joint Recovery

Your physical therapist or doctor will recommend specific exercises that provide critical post-surgery development for your new joint. When you’re ready to expand on your movement, these five exercises help you maintain joint health while getting an aerobic workout that’s good for your entire body.

  1. Walking. Walking is a great form of exercise for almost any person, and you can customize the intensity to meet your needs. Walk slowly on flat, stable ground during your early recovery to reduce the chance of falls and injuries. As you heal, you can add in hills and a brisk pace to support increased functionality and aerobic benefits.
  2. Yoga. Yoga increases flexibility and can increase the health of all your joints. A study published in the International Journal of Yoga noted that participants who engaged in yoga and physiotherapy following a knee replacement experienced a significant reduction in pain and stiffness over those who only participate in physiotherapy.
  3. Swimming. Swimming lets you engage in aerobic activity with very little strain or impact to the joints as you are in a low g enviroment. Even if you’re not ready to stroke through laps in a pool, water-based aerobics help develop range of motion and strength in joints.
  4. Rowing. Rowing is definitely an activity that should come after you’re fully recovered, but it’s an aerobic exercise that benefits many muscle groups and joints without putting undo strain on knees or hips. If you want to try rowing after a total joint replacement, talk to your physician first.
  5. Elliptical Workouts. If walking outside isn’t an option, choose the elliptical machine over a treadmill, especially if you had a knee replacement. The elliptical lets you get a good workout without constant vibrations from contact between feet and pavement (or treadmill), which can lead to issue with some joint replacements.

Ultimately, total joint recovery involves a partnership between patient and provider. Your care team cannot do the exercises for you or be able to know how you are feeling. Let your doctor and physical therapist know how you are feeling and what type of activity you’re interested in, and take their recommendations to heart as you become stronger through recovery.

Dr. Tammy Hoyle

Dr. Tammy Hoyle

Dr. Tammy Hoyle is a retired LPN with more than 35 years in healthcare. She worked predominantly with elderly dementia patients and patients with spinal cord injuries.

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