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7 Exercises Before Joint Replacement Surgery

Many people with arthritis or joint pain favor their “good” joints, which causes the painful joint to weaken. This weakness may interfere with recovery, so it’s important to be as fit as possible before a joint replacement surgery. The stronger your muscles are before surgery, the better your recovery will be.

These seven exercises to do before joint replacement surgery can help you strengthen your joint in preparation for surgery. Don’t forget to strengthen your entire body too, not just your legs. Consider these a minimum amount of exercise prior to surgery.

Precautions When Exercising Before Joint Replacement Surgery

Always consult your physician before starting a pre-operative exercise plan. If these exercises cause additional pain, stop and consult with a physician or physical therapist.

Refer to a stop light if you’re questioning your level of activity, pain, or soreness:

  • Red light: You feel more pain during and after your activity and that pain lingers for more than a few hours. You feel worse. Stop or greatly reduce your level of activity. Contact your primary care provider if the pain becomes unrelenting.
  • Yellow light: You feel some discomfort during your activity, and it may even linger for an hour or so after the activity, but you are not feeling worse. Proceed with caution. Continue your activity but do not increase the intensity level.
  • Green light: You feel good during your activity, and you feel better because of it. Continue but always monitor your symptoms.

Icing your painful joint after exercising helps reduce soreness and elevating your leg above waist level helps control any swelling. It is important to control swelling because more swelling leads to more stiffness and soreness.

Exercises to Start Before Joint Replacement Surgery

Try adding these exercises to your daily routine to strengthen your body before a joint replacement surgery. You should be able to do them in 15 minutes and it is typically recommended you do all of them twice a day.

1. Heel Slides

This exercise can be completed sitting in a chair or lying in bed. People with hip pain should complete this exercise lying in bed.

If you are completing this exercise in bed, lie on your back with your legs straight. Slide your heel on the bed toward your buttock to bend your knee. Lower your knee again toward the bed to straighten your leg as much as you can. Do not allow your knee to move in or out.

If you are completing this exercise in a chair, sit up straight with your feet comfortably apart and a towel placed under one foot. Using your foot, slide the towel under the chair by bending your knee as far as you can. Then, push the towel forward as far as you can by straightening your knee.

Complete this exercise 20 times, twice a day.

Preview this exercise here

2. Knee Extension

Sit down on a chair with your back straight. Fully straighten your knee with your toes pointed up. Hold this position briefly then relax your foot to the floor.

Complete this exercise 20 times, twice a day.

Preview this exercise here.

3. Heel Raises

Stand holding onto a sturdy surface. Stand with tall posture, keeping your buttock muscles tight and your chest lifted. Come onto the toes (raise heels) of both your feet without bending your knees. Return to the initial position.

Complete this exercise 20 times, twice a day.

Preview this exercise here.

4. Sit to Stand

Important: This exercise should be completed pre-operatively only.

Stand in front of a table or something sturdy with a chair behind you. Hold the table as needed while you slowly sit back into the chair, keeping your back straight and hinging at the hips (no round back). Then stand back up, tightening your quads (front of thighs) and buttock muscles for a tall standing posture.

Complete this exercise five to 10 times, once a day.

Preview this exercise here.

5. Armchair Pushups

Sit in an armchair and place your hands on the armrests. Straighten your arms, raising your bottom up off the chair seat, if possible.

This exercise will help to straighten your arms for walking with crutches or a walker and getting in and out of a chair, bed, or car after a joint replacement surgery.

Complete this exercise 20 times.

Preview this exercise here.

6. Straight Leg Raises

Important: This exercise is only for people with knee pain. Do not complete it if you have hip pain.

Lie on your back with one knee bent and the affected leg completely straight. Tighten your thigh muscles before lifting. Lift your leg off the bed, keeping your knee straight and toes pointed up. Slowly lower the leg to the starting position.

Complete this exercise 20 times, twice a day.

This exercise is similar to leg lifts, but instead of sitting in a chair, you are lying in bed.

7. Seated Hamstring Stretch

Important: This exercise is only for people with knee pain. Do not complete it if you have hip pain.

Sit on the edge of a sturdy chair with your affected leg straight out in front of you and the other knee bent. Keep your back straight as you bend forward to feel a stretch behind your straight leg. Hold this position for 20 seconds.

Complete one set three times, twice a day.

Preview this exercise here.

For more exercise suggestions before joint replacement surgery, consult with a physical therapist.