Ester Burgess column: Exercises for a new knee

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 4, 2006

Q. What can I do on my own after a knee replacement?

A. First of all, talk to your doctor. He or she is probably sending you to “joint camp” in the hospital. You will be working with a physical therapist. That physical therapist will give you also exercises you need to be doing at home.

It is soooo important to listen to your doctor and your physical therapist. Just because you’ve got a “new” knee doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do anything else for it.

To make the knee replacement successful, you need to put all your effort into rehabilitation. If you don’t, that knee can freeze up. The most common problem after surgery is stiffening of the knee joint. But if you do what your doctor prescribes, you should be doing fine.

I am not saying that it will be easy, but it will be worth your while. The pain you had before your replacement should be gone. Now it is up to you to make the knee work for you again.

First of all, your doctor will tell you to use common sense. (So don’t be planning a ski vacation after your surgery!)

Dangerous activities after surgery can be:

* Jogging/ running

* Contact sports

* Jumping sports

* High-impact aerobics

Activities exceeding usual recommendations can be:

* Vigorous walking or hiking

* Skiing (Told you so!)

* Tennis

* Repetitive lifting exceeding 50 pounds

* Repetitive aerobic stair climbing

Expected activities after your surgery:

* Recreational walking

* Swimming

* Golf

* Driving

* Light hiking

* Recreational biking

* Ballroom dancing (Dancing with the stars!)

* Normal stair climbing

The following are some exercises you can do at home. I know that your physical therapist gave you information for these exercises. You can use it to refresh, or for the people who have had their replacement a long time ago and need to loosen up their knee joint.

(Make sure it is OK with your doctor to do these. I know this will come as a shock to you, but I am NOT a doctor!)

* Static quadriceps (top part upper leg) exercise.

Have the knee straight, tense up the front muscles of the thigh as if you are trying to straighten the knee and lift the heel. Hold for a few seconds then relax. Try not to tense up your buttocks muscles or try too hard.

* Sit with your knee bent over a rolled up towel, high enough to lift the heel of the ground. Tighten up the knee muscles and lift your heel off the ground. Keep your knee firmly down on the roll. Hold for a few seconds, relax and repeat about 10 times.

* Sit or lie with the leg out straight. Tighten the thigh muscles, straighten the knee and lift the whole leg 6 inches up off the floor. Hold for 3 seconds then lower. Do them about 10 times. I would go ahead and do the exercise for both legs.

* Passive knee stretches.

Sit or lie with your leg out in front of you. Put the heel on a block or pillow so that the knee hangs in mid air. Let the knee stretch for 5 minutes, or less if it is too painful.

* Knee bends on the bed. Put your foot on a Chinette paper plate (it’s cheap and it works). Keep the heel down on the plate and slide the foot towards you, bending the knee. Hold it at a full bend for 3 seconds then release. Do it about 5 times.

* Knee bends in a chair. Sit in a chair with your foot on the ground. Slide the foot firmly toward you and then release. Hold for 3 seconds each time in the fully bent position. Don’t move your hips, just your foot. About 5 times each side.

* Flexion and extension. Sit on something high enough to keep the foot off the floor. Bend the knee as far back as possible. Straighten the knee as far forward/upward as possible and hold for a couple of seconds. Do 3 sets of 10 reps. Again, perform the exercise on both legs.

I hope this will help you with your rehabilitation. Listen to your doctor and physical therapist. They know what is best for you.

Ester Hoeben Burgess is associate executive director of the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA. Contact her with health and fitness questions at 704-636-0111 or