Getting Back Into Fitness After Joint Replacement Surgery

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Joint replacement surgery is an increasingly common procedure for people living with inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), since this progressive disease typically results in worsening joint pain and function. While surgery is considered a last resort, research suggests that RA patients who decide to undergo joint replacement show a clinically significant improvement in joint function and pain, particularly after a knee replacement.


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Getting back into fitness after joint replacement surgery (continued)

If you’ve recently had joint replacement surgery, getting back into shape after surgery will help you to maximize joint healing and function. HealthCentral compiled some of the best exercises you can do after either knee- or hip-replacement surgery to help improve your fitness and mobility as you recover.


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Hip replacement: aerobic exercise

When you are cleared to begin exercise, aerobic exercise is important to help you increase the range of motion in your hips and to reduce pain and stiffness resulting from inactivity after surgery. Low-impact exercise such as walking, swimming, and using a stationary bike will limit stress on your joints, allowing them to heal. If you are overweight, getting to a healthy weight can help to minimize joint pain and prevent further injury.


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Hip replacement: strengthening exercises

Muscle strengthening exercises can help build muscle tissue around the hips, providing additional support to the hip joints. Exercises that target the hips, thighs, and core are particularly helpful. Use resistance bands to build hip flexor strength. Free weights and circuit weight machines can be used on all muscle groups to help build lean muscle tissue throughout your entire body, improving posture and core strength.


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Hip replacement: stretching exercises

Stretching exercises that target your hip muscles can increase hip range of motion, improve flexibility, and prevent muscle tightening, which typically leads to hip pain. Standing knee raises and standing hip abduction exercises (10 repetitions of each, three to four times each day) are a great way to increase range of motion and flexibility.


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Knee replacement: aerobic exercise

It’s important to remember that rehabilitation and exercise after joint replacement is unique to each person. Knee replacements are often the result of overuse injuries, so it’s crucial to follow the exercises prescribed by your doctor or physical therapist to avoid further injury. Avoid any activity that causes knee pain or swelling. Using a stationary bike or elliptical machine can be helpful to strengthen the quadriceps muscles, which can improve range of motion and knee stability.


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Knee replacement: strengthening exercises

A straight-leg knee press is a great way to strengthen your quadriceps muscles. This exercise can also improve knee extension and range of motion. Lying on your back, place a rolled towel under your ankles. Press your knees down toward to floor, tightening your quadriceps. Hold for five seconds, and repeat up to 20 times.


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Knee replacement: strengthening exercises

In addition to strengthening your quads, it is important to strengthen your hips and gluteal muscles after knee replacement. Hip and gluteal strength is important for knee stabilization. A clamshell exercise is a good way to work both areas to support your knee. Lying on one side with knees bent, lift the knee of your top leg while keeping your feet touching. Perform this movement 12 times, for three sets, and repeat on the other side.


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Knee replacement: stretching exercises

Joint stiffness is common after surgery. Stretching can improve range of motion and prevent scar tissue development. Heel slides are one way to improve range of motion. While lying on your back, extend the non-surgical leg straight out in front of you. Bend your surgical knee, sliding that heel close to your glutes. Stop before it becomes uncomfortable, holding the knee at a bent angle for a few seconds before sliding it back to a straight position. Repeat this move 10 times for three sets.


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The bottom line

Recovering from joint replacement can be long process. With patience, a positive attitude, and a strong rehabilitation program, you have a great chance for a full recovery. Don’t ignore the warning signs of relapse after surgery. Speak with your healthcare provider immediately if you have concerns about your recovery after joint replacement surgery. Always follow the advice of your doctor or physical therapist before advancing your exercise program.