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Benefits of Physical Therapy After Knee Surgery

Some patients begin thinking twice about knee surgery based on subjective outcome reports from friends, family and coworkers. It seems everyone has a story of how knee surgery was the best thing or even the worst. One of the top reasons knee surgeries fail is due to weakness, and physical therapy strengthens muscles that support movement and stability of the knee joint. There are also many other reasons physical therapy after knee surgery is a big help.

Range of Motion

Two things contribute to the loss of flexibility, known as range of motion, in knees after surgery. First, there are the preceding years before surgery where patients often have a continued decline of the ability to use the knee joint. Time leading up to knee surgery often involves avoiding stairs, lifting, getting on the floor and other things that involve using the affected knee. Muscles weaken, tendons tighten and flexibility diminishes due to lack of use. Secondly, the surgery itself and scar tissue can further limit flexibility and strength. Appropriate physical therapy can restore not only strength but range of motion too. It does not happen overnight, and it does not happen automatically after knee surgery. It requires a prescribed regimen of stretching and strength building exercises to regain full joint use.

Pain Reduction

At first it is painful to work a knee that has just been operated on. This is why trained physical therapists, who spend about seven years earning their credentials, need to be involved soon after knee surgery or replacement. It seems counter intuitive to move something that hurts, but it is the movement that contributes to healing. Strength and flexibility increase with each prescribed knee exercise, and healing is also assisted because of an increase of blood supply to the knee joint during exercise. Blood brings oxygen, nutrients, enzymes and specific cells needed for healing. A little pain with physical therapy can help avoid chronic pain from developing or continuing after surgery.

Combination Effects of Continued Knee Pain After Surgery

Most people are used to a certain level of food intake and activity. Pain easily causes people to cut back on daily activities, but eating the same amount of calories often continues. Many patients of injuries that have reduced their ability to move freely in their environments have complained of weight gain as the months go by enduring chronic pain. Narcotic painkillers have a sedation effect that further reduces the motivation to move. Then, weight gain adds more stress to a weak and painful knee, further exacerbating the problem. Quality physical therapy helps to get the knee joint as fully functional as possible in the shortest amount of time so patients can resume their normal daily routines.

The CDC reported that in 2010 there were 719,000 total knee replacements in the United States. This does not include arthroscopic and other knee surgeries to repair things such as torn ACLs. It is not necessary to go it alone in recovering from knee surgery. Expert physical therapists, using modern methods and equipment, can restore repaired knees to optimal strength and flexibility.


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