Knee Rehab Exercises

Orthopaedic surgeons and physical therapists often see patients with knee injuries. Knee injuries can include damage to the patella, meniscus, or knee ligaments, like the ACL , or anterior cruciate ligament and MCL, or medial collateral ligament. Some knee injuries will require surgery. Although rehabilitation exercises for the knees vary by diagnosis, there are many staples that are commonly prescribed. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the common goals for knee rehab exercises following ACL surgery include regaining former range of motion and strengthening the quadriceps and hamstrings.

Range of Motion

Injured knees can quickly lose mobility, especially after surgery, making range of motion exercises a common knee rehab activity. Dr. Peter J. Millet of the Steadman Hawkins Clinic explains that loss of extension following knee surgery is common, and if untreated, can lead to a permanent limp and weakness. Performing active-assisted range of motion exercises such as heel slides in sitting and supine for flexion, and heel props in supine for extension help restore joint mobility. More advanced range of motion activities may include heel slides with pressure at the end range and the stationary bike.

Quadriceps Strengthening

Restoring strength to the quadriceps is a crucial element of any knee rehab protocol. Initial quadriceps exercises may include isometric, or non-joint moving, contractions of the muscle group while in supine. “Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques,” by Carolyn Kisner and Lynn Allen Colby explains that straight leg raises are also a staple of early knee rehab programs, as is terminal knee extension. As the knee heals, partial squats and leg presses strengthen the quads even more.

Hamstring Strengthening

Like the quadriceps, the early phase in knee rehab protocols usually calls for isometric exercises to strengthen the hamstrings, also known as heel digs. Hamstring curls without weights typically follow, and as the hamstrings strengthen, ankle weights can be used to increase the resistance. Later on, adding step-ups to the knee rehab program provides a more dynamic hamstring exercise.

Balance and Agility

Once range of motion returns and the knee muscles strengthen, the rehab exercise program can incorporate balance and agility activities, which help the patient control the knee under dynamic conditions and prevent future injury. According to Dr. LaPrade from the University of Minnesota’s Sports Medicine Institute, these exercises might include using a balance board, figure 8’s, shuttle runs and backwards jogging.

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