If you have knee or hip arthritis and are awaiting an operation or already post knee and hip replacement surgery, then you need to know the crucial role exercise plays in your recovery and that is why I compiled this list of the top exercise tips for you. With over twenty years of experience training clients with osteoarthritis and joint replacements, I developed a gold mine of knowledge that needs to be shared because it can make an extraordinary difference in your recovery and quality of life.

As unique as knee replacements and hip replacements are for each individual, they have become such a common surgery in society’s mind that they are no longer perceived with the seriousness and cautiousness that they require. What this then leads to is patients not preparing for or being diligent with their treatment plan post hip and knee replacement surgery. The really sad part is the results in range of motion, strength, function, and endurance for everyday life activities is never actualized to their full capacity; patients then do not realize they can gain a lot more mobility with exercises. They assume sub par function is normal when it is not.

Whether you are going it alone in your preparation and recovery from knee or hip arthroplasty or working with a personal trainer, these knee and hip replacement exercise tips will guide your healing and return you to function post operation.

10 Exercise Guidelines for Knee & Hip Replacement

  1. When to Begin an Exercise Program Post Hip and Knee Replacement
    After your knee or hip replacement surgery, it takes 6 weeks for the soft tissue to heal. This soft tissue includes the skin, muscles, tendons, and other tissues that were impacted by the surgical incision and procedure. During this first six weeks post operation, the only exercises you should be doing will be guided by a physiotherapist or a supervised hospital program. This is your ‘healing’ phase which means generally only gentle movements and minimal to assisted weight bearing are introduced. Therefore this is not the time you will be doing any weighted strength exercises unless instructed by a physiotherapist. Range of motion exercises are a focus in this phase.
  2. The Importance of Exercise Pre Hip and Knee Replacement Surgery
    You can speed up your healing post surgery and regain strength and function by doing specific exercises prior to your knee or hip replacement operation. It was always so much fun when our class participants who had started their exercise program pre operation came back from seeing their physiotherapist or surgeon post surgery, and shared that they received a glowing report of surprise and curiosity as to what they had been doing. They were told they were recovering stronger and faster than most and their physiotherapists wanted to know what their secret was! It was exercise pre surgery.
  3. Can you exercise when your joint has inflammation?
    This is such a tricky question because with any other injury or any other time you experience inflammation in your body, the answer would be, ‘no and rest until the swelling and heat is gone’. However, and this was quite challenging to grasp in the beginning at which I only did by following the physiotherapists lead, when you are post surgery with a new knee or hip implant, inflammation is a given for many weeks and thus is something you work with and around.

    Here is the key with knowing when you can exercise with inflammation or if you need to stop or reduce what you are doing. You will learn in the hospital that they need to get your knee or hip moving right away for circulation of blood to the joint so it can heal. They also need to optimize your range of motion which begins even with inflammation still present.

    Exercising when your joint still has inflammation will include gentle range of motion exercises and usually non weight bearing unless instructed by a trained professional. If the exercise increases pain, heat, and swelling above your starting point, this is when you need to stop what you are doing or reduce what you have been doing for exercise. Always listen to your body. The motto should be, ‘do no harm’.

Why Hip and Knee Replacement Patients Need Strength Exercises for a minimum of 6 months Post-Op

4. When you hit the 6 weeks post knee and hip replacement operation date, you may be graduated from a supervised hospital program or told they are all done with you. This is a very important moment to realize you are only done at the hospital, but truth be told, you are far from being completed in your rehabilitation journey to full function, mobility, and strength.

Knee and Hip Strength Exercises post replacement surgery

When you commit to a two or three day a week exercise program that includes both strength exercises and range of motion exercises past the six week operation date, this is where exciting progress and return to function begins. The six weeks post surgery is only a base ‘function independently’ level, but if you are someone who works, looks after the grand children, golfs, or has an active lifestyle, the return to your best body and a thriving life begins with a progressive exercise program starting at about the 2 month mark.

Even though I say six months above, what I taught my clients was that they need to continue exercising for one year and even two years post replacement surgery because these are the milestone markers where we saw success!

5. Strength Exercises Give Knee and Hip Replacement Patients the Freedom to Return to Their Life, Some Sports, and their Best Body!
I will never forget training one of my clients who was around sixty years old and he had young children, a business, and of course golf to return to in his life. It was so exciting to take him from weak, cannot do much of what he use to at 2 months post operation, to back playing golf and feeling like his regular studly self.

A strength training program that includes muscular endurance strength and post joint replacement strength exercises, takes a patient from weak and getting by to the freedom of enjoying the quality of life they were accustomed to before surgery. Please know that the exercises you are given in the first 6 weeks post operation are not strength exercises; rather they are designed to get your joint moving as it did before, but that is all. Anything else you do in your daily routine that requires strength like carrying groceries, lifting your dog or kids, doing yard work, all of these require strength exercises to return you to the ability to do more in your days then ‘basic activities of daily living’.

How Personal Trainers and Exercises Can Improve Your Gait Post Knee and Hip Replacement

6. One of the biggest complaints I hear post surgery is the disappointment in their gait and or still having a limp after a knee or hip replacement. Often this is temporary so keep hope for a full recovery. The return to a strong gait requires strength exercises and a personal trainer or physiotherapist will be able to assess your gait, and design an exercise program that will put that spring back in your step! The only time exercises do not fix gait is if there is a true leg length discrepancy, but strength exercises will still improve gait and minimize the leg length discrepancy limp.

Gait post hip replacement surgery

A personal trainer is instrumental in improving gait for people who have had knee or hip arthroplasty because they can loosen, strengthen, retrain, increase balance, and build endurance all with a specific exercise program tailored to your body’s needs.

Stretching and Range of Motion Exercises are Important Post Knee and Hip Replacement Surgery

7. Sitting at number 7 for exercise tips post joint replacement, but definitely not number 7 in importance, is how important stretching and range of motion exercises are for a full recovery post knee and hip replacement. Stretching and optimizing range of motion at your new joint is just as important as strength exercises. In fact, a knee or hip that is limited in range of motion can impact gait, posture, balance, and everyday function. Tight muscles also limit our body’s functional capacity to move freely and efficiently. Therefore, everyone who has had a knee or hip replacement will benefit hugely from a personalized stretching and range of motion program.

How Personal Trainers Help Knee and Hip Replacement Patients

8. I know without a shadow of a doubt that one of the biggest success factors of our joint replacement program and the results my personal training clients received were due to the supervision of their technique while doing exercises. It is one thing to do an exercise, but it is another to do it correctly, feel it in the right place, and isolate it properly for superior strength benefits. If you have the means to hire a personal trainer post knee or hip replacement and want the best results you can get, I highly recommend you work with a personal trainer who specializes in knee and hip replacement and who is great at technique cuing.

Sometimes we cannot see or know what an exercise should feel like and it is only with the eye of a trained professional that we can be guided to its successful execution. This was also one of the biggest comments I received from my clients and how they appreciated the expertise in being taught how to do exercises correctly. A personal trainer will cue your technique of exercises and ensure you are doing them properly for effective results.

9. Why Hip and Knee Replacement Patients Need Cardiovascular Conditioning and Need Walking as one of their options

It was never so clear to me how drastically having a knee or hip replacement surgery impacts cardiovascular conditioning as to when a world champion cross country skier came back in to train post operation and was shocked at his cardiovascular conditioning. He had actually raced on Tylenol about 2 weeks or less before surgery and then returned to the gym sooner than he should have and was completely winded. For those of you who may not know, a cross country skier competitor has one of the most superior aerobic capacities of all athletes especially for endurance. He was as red as a tomato in minutes on the elliptical machine.

Do not expect for your aerobic conditioning to be at the same level it was at prior to your surgery. Also know you will need to start at a lower level and gradually increase both your time or distance and intensity.

Also, if you are a gym goer who prefers the Elliptical machines for your aerobic conditioning or someone who only prefers aquasize, you need to know that walking is the only aerobic option that will build unilateral strength, balance, and endurance on 1 leg. One of my clients started on the treadmill, but then months later was only doing the Elliptical for cardio and it resulted in his inability to play an 18 hole round of golf which he was able to do previously. It was directly related to his lack of being on the treadmill training his operated leg to balance his body in standing and walking.

10. A Strength and Exercise Program Increases Confidence in Ability

One of the things I noticed in so many hip and knee replacement clients was the ‘getting to know their body again’ and ‘learning how to walk again’ moments post surgery. Having an exercise program that challenges you to learn what your body can do gradually in a safe environment and building your strength ability up gives you confidence. The fear or hesitation fades as the pain goes and your functional ability improves. Confidence in your body’s ability to do more allows you to say ‘yes’ to things you may not have done for a while, it gives you new found freedom and independence, and it can increase your social life where you could even dust off the dancing shoes.

There you have the top 10 list of exercise tips for people with hip and knee replacement surgery. These are all important issues when planning, starting, and continuing your exercise program post operation. Now over to you in taking a step toward feeling great again and recovering strong with a new knee or hip. Get some help with a personal trainer and a personalized exercise program or you can learn more about our online knee and hip replacement exercise program here.

Happy Exercising!

If you are a personal trainer wanting to learn safe, effective exercises to train your clients with arthritis or knee and hip replacement, check out our online course ‘Joint Replacement Exercises for Personal Trainers’.