What Patients Wish They Knew About PhysicalTherapy After Knee Surgery (1)

Physical therapy after knee surgery is a necessary part of the recovery process, but you can make it more effective. The more actively you participate in your own recovery, the faster you may be able to return to normal activity. For athletes, this means getting back to their routine quickly and safely.

Physical Therapy After Knee Surgery

The specific physical therapy requirements after knee surgery will vary depending on the type and severity of the injury, the type of surgery, and your physical health. Although every patient is different, the regimen typically includes:

Limited Weight Bearing

If you are unable to bear weight on your affected leg for a period of time, your physical therapist will work with you to determine which assistive devices are best for your needs. These might include a walker, wheelchair, crutches, or a cane. You will also learn how to safely use the recommended device(s) to avoid other injuries and ensure that your knee is protected. 

Physical Therapy Exercises

The exercises you can do immediately following knee surgery are typically passive and require a physical therapist to guide you through them. As your body heals, your therapist will introduce new exercises to help you regain range of motion, strength, and flexibility. As pain subsides and tissues heal, you will be able to perform many of these exercises on your own.

It’s important to do the recommended number of sets and repetitions at the frequency suggested by your therapist in order to get the most benefit from the therapy. Although the exercises might be uncomfortable or boring, or feel like they are not accomplishing anything, each recommended activity serves a purpose, so it’s important to stick to the plan provided by your physical therapist.


Cryotherapy, or cold therapy, after knee surgery can help reduce pain and swelling, and it may also allow you to reduce or eliminate pain medication more quickly.

If you’re an athlete, you know the benefits of icing an injury, but you might not know about the advanced cryotherapy systems your physical therapist can provide. A cryotherapy system circulates cold water through a body-conforming wrap that provides circumferential coverage of your knee. This allows therapeutic cold to penetrate tissues more evenly and efficiently. The system  also provides pneumatic compression, which mimics the muscles “squeeze and release” contractions, helping to, pump away excess fluid and reduce swelling. Active compression also enhances the delivery of therapeutic cold so it is able to penetrate even deeper into the injured tissues. Put simply, a cryotherapy system is significantly more effective than the ice packs you can apply at home.

Cryotherapy Case Studies  

Every year, The Steadman Clinic in Colorado uses cryotherapy to support the recovery of hundreds of patients after shoulder, elbow, and knee surgery. One example of a cryotherapy system in action is the treatment of a three-time Olympic women’s skeleton champion who broke her patella before the Vancouver Olympics. With limited time for the athlete to recover, a cryotherapy system enabled the quick reduction of swelling and promoted faster healing in the fractured bone. The clinic estimates that patients recover at least 20 percent faster with the use of a cryotherapy system.

Another example is nurse Alisa Sorensen, who underwent knee replacement surgery to treat osteoarthritis. By using a cold therapy system immediately after surgery, she experienced almost no swelling and was able to stop taking pain medication after just 10 days. Only two weeks after her surgery, she was able completely straighten her knee from a 90-degree angle. Because her swelling was reduced and she wasn’t in pain, she found that her mobility was better than she had expected and she was able to return to her busy life more quickly.

If you are planning to have knee surgery or are currently in the process of recovering, it’s important to work with a physical therapist you trust. Use our free Checklist for Finding a Physical Therapist to select a qualified provider that will help you recover faster.

Checklist for finding a physical therapist