Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes: 4 Joint-Friendly Exercises After Joint Replacement

After you’ve had a joint replacement, you may be looking forward to getting back to the active lifestyle you had before — whether that means returning to the field or court or signing up for a half marathon.

Then you ask yourself: Can I actually do any of these things now?

While you may return to many of your normal activities after a joint replacement, not every sport or exercise is safe for your new joint. High-impact activities, such as running or jumping, can put too much force on the joint. This can make it wear out faster, which could mean you’ll need another surgery to fix it.

However, you don’t have to go into total couch potato mode after joint replacement. Low-impact exercises — exercises that won’t put too much pressure on your joints — can help you stay in shape without compromising your new joint.

Here are four low-impact activities to consider after joint replacement.

Note: Talk to your health care provider before participating in any exercise or physical activity after undergoing joint replacement.


1. Swimming

Why and how it works:

  • Swimming is an aerobic exercise — an activity that can get your breathing and heart rate up — that works out all the muscles in your body. It can improve your cardiovascular endurance, which is how efficiently your heart, lungs, and vascular system can deliver oxygen to the muscles during exercise.
  • Unlike running, where you could overuse your knees, swimming has a very low impact on your artificial joints. Your body is fully supported by the water. None of your joints — no matter if you just had a new shoulder joint, hip, or knee — need to bear weight.

Before you start:

  • Discuss with your provider if you should avoid certain swimming strokes. For example, if you had a total knee replacement, you may want to avoid doing the breaststroke, as it heavily relies on leg kicking to move forward and that can irritate your new joint.

2. Stationary Bike

Why and how it works:

  • After your knee or hip joint replacement surgery — and the weeks of rest during recovery — the muscles around the joint lose strength. Riding a stationary bike can strengthen the muscles to provide better support for the new joint.
  • Building your range of motion: If you’ve just recovered, you might not be used to your new joint yet. It takes practice to gain natural movement, and the stationary bike can give you that practice.

Before you start:

  • Making sure your seat is at the right height is important. Position the seat at a height where the bottom of your foot just touches the pedal and your knee can extend almost straight while pedaling.
  • When you are ready to pedal, go backwards at first. Get comfortable with the motion of pedaling before you pedal forward.
  • Ride for 10 to 15 minutes, twice a day. After you get more comfortable, slowly increase to 20 to 30 minutes, three or four times a week.

3. Gentle Yoga

Why and how it works:

  • Yoga builds muscle strength, stability, and flexibility. Stretching the muscle groups around your new joint can help provide more support and reduce pressure on the new joint.

Before you start:

  • If you had a knee or hip replacement, keep your knees straight and aligned in a straight line with your hip and ankles. Good alignment can lower the impact on your joints.
  • Most yoga classes are gentle, but there are more advanced classes that can involve movements such as twisting of your knees, hips, or back. You may want to avoid these movements, as your artificial joint might not have the necessary range of motion.
  • Talk to your yoga instructor before class. Let them know your situation so that they can modify the movements for you, if necessary.

4. Elliptical

If you were a runner and miss running after the joint replacement, the elliptical is a good option.

Why and how it works:

  • Like riding a bicycle, your legs go in a circle when using an elliptical, and this can reduce weight-bearing stress on your joints.

Before you start:

  • The elliptical can simulate the experience of walking, running, or hiking based on the different levels of incline and resistance on the machine. The higher the resistance, the more force you will need to use. You may want to start at an easier level. Ask your provider if you are ready for more challenging exercises on an elliptical before increasing the intensity.

Can Athletes Return to Sports After Joint Replacement?

Returning to competition is a common aspiration for athletes who have had joint replacement surgery. But is it safe to return to the sport that has torn your joint? Unfortunately, the answer is not a clear-cut yes or no.

Although many athletes choose to march on and return to competition, the majority of surgeons advise against high-impact sports, such as basketball or gymnastics, after joint replacement surgery. This is because the goal is for your new joint to last as long as possible and to save you from needing another surgery.

Artificial joints can usually last a long time — for example, a knee implant could last 20 years — but the activities you do can make a huge difference on that number.

If you plan to compete again, talk with your surgeon about it before having the surgery. Ask them how long the new joint could last with the type of sport you expect to continue playing.

Remember — no matter which exercises you choose, weigh the pros and cons, and discuss it with your provider before you do it. This can save you from another joint surgery in the long run.

Have questions about which exercises are good for your new joint? Call (785) 270-8880 to set up an appointment with Cotton O’Neil Orthopedics & Sports Medicine.

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