What Should I Expect from Knee Physical Therapy?

Celia Gaillard

What you should expect from knee physical therapy will depend on the severity of the injury or surgery. Knee physical therapy helps to strengthen the knee and prevent future injury even in people not suffering from any particular pain. Knee physical therapy may include gentle exercises, stretching, treatments alternating hot and cold applications, and ultrasound. Therapy may be done in the home or under the supervision of a physical therapist.

Knee therapy sessions are typically two to four times per week.
Knee therapy sessions are typically two to four times per week.

Common causes necessitating knee physical therapy include minor and major surgery; injury to cartilage and ligaments; patellar tendinitis, which is an injury to the tendon covering the front of the knee; and arthritis. Whatever the reason behind the need for knee physical therapy, the goal is to provide support and improve the strength of the knee. It should also help minimize shock, stress, and general wear and tear.

Pain medication can help with knee pain.
Pain medication can help with knee pain.

Knee physical therapy, whether done at home or with a therapist, must be taken slowly so as not to exacerbate the injury. Each strengthening session must be followed with stretching to prevent tightening of the muscles around the knee. The muscles that are primarily targeted during therapy are the quadriceps and hamstrings.

Knee physical therapy may include simple stretching exercises.
Knee physical therapy may include simple stretching exercises.

The quadriceps are located on the front of the thigh and are connected below the knee. This muscle is responsible for straightening the leg and aiding with sitting and walking. The hamstring is located on the back of the leg and behind the knee. It is used primarily when bending the leg. Strengthening and stretching these muscles is a crucial component in knee physical therapy.

A person wearing a knee brace.
A person wearing a knee brace.

Exercises done with these muscles should be non-weight bearing and are performed while seated or lying down. A common exercise for the quadriceps is to lie down with one knee bent with the foot on the floor. The opposite leg is slowly raised to the height of the bent knee and then slowly lowered. Exercising the hamstring can be done by standing and holding onto the back of a chair, and then bending the knee back to no more than a 90° angle. Hold the leg in this position for a few seconds and lower it slowly.

Knee physical therapy, whether done at home or with a therapist, must be taken slowly so as not to exacerbate the injury.
Knee physical therapy, whether done at home or with a therapist, must be taken slowly so as not to exacerbate the injury.

In addition to working the quadriceps and hamstrings, exercises may also be done to engage the hip and buttocks. These include wall squats and step ups. A simple stretching exercise that can be done at home is to lie down with a rolled up towel underneath one ankle. Gently press the ankle into the towel to straighten the knee, making sure not to lock the knee.

Physical therapy sessions for the knee are usually two to four times a week for three to six weeks.
Physical therapy sessions for the knee are usually two to four times a week for three to six weeks.

Along with strengthening and stretching exercises, knee physical therapy may also include the application of hot and cold compresses and even ultrasound to stimulate the muscles and blood flow around the knee. It is important not to overwork the knee during therapy. Knee therapy sessions are typically two to four times a week and last anywhere from three to six weeks.

Knee physical therapy helps strengthen the knee.
Knee physical therapy helps strengthen the knee.
A person using an elastic bandage during knee physical therapy.
A person using an elastic bandage during knee physical therapy.

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Discussion Comments

Raynbow

@rundocuri- You should suggest that your father talk to his physical therapist about wearing a knee brace during therapy. Though it will depend on his particular problem and the type of surgery he has whether or not he can wear one, a brace may help give him the extra support he will need to prevent knee pain while he's on the mend.

You father should also be sure to let his therapist know if his knee physical therapy is causing him to experience more pain. This is very important following surgery, because pain could be a sign of a problem or that he is doing too much physical therapy.

Heavanet

@rundocuri- Your father should talk to his doctor about his concerns, because he or she will be able to ease his nerves about his knee physical therapy. It's also important that your father keeps in mind that the point of the therapy is to help his knee become mobile again, not to cause him pain.

Rundocuri

My dad has to have knee surgery, and is very concerned about the pain he may have when he goes through physical therapy. What are the best strategies he should consider before he begins his knee physical therapy regimen?

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