Physiotherapy after knee operation is the most crucial part of the recovery process. It needs to be taken seriously, because doing something wrongly, or too early, or too late, can all have devastating long-term impacts on your ability to walk properly again.
I was bed bound for months after my bilateral patellar tendon rupture surgery, and had to keep my feet flat without bending at all for 6 weeks straight. Needless to say, my muscles wasted away quickly, and I needed a lot of help to get basic things done.
This article is the last of a series on my knee injury, and subsequent knee surgery recovery process. They contain tips, resources and tools for all aspects of after surgery home care. This post in particular will focus on equipment needed and physiotherapy after knee operation, to help get you back on your feet and walking again. (You can view the full series at the end of the post.)
❗️❗️❗️ Please work with your own physiotherapist as our knee injuries, circumstances and comorbidities are all different. If there is something on this list that you’d like to try, do check in with them if it’s safe and suitable for you first.
Disclaimer: This article and the resources provided below are based on MY own personal experiences with spontaneous bilateral patellar tendon ruptures, as a person with many chronic illnesses. It also includes extensive options to cover various knee surgeries – not everything is meant for your specific type of knee injury or knee surgery. They are meant for educational purposes and not to be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own medical provider before trying anything out.
This post also contains affiliate links. It will cost you nothing to click on them. I will get a small referral fee from purchases you make, which helps with the maintenance of this blog (approx. $100/month). Thank you!
Resources with a star ⭐ next to them are ones I’ve personally tried and would recommend!
Table of Contents
1. Exercise Equipment (When You Can Start Physiotherapy After Knee Operation)
1.1 Dumbbells (Important to Maintain Upper Body Strength)
I got some dumbbells in 1kg, 2kg and 5kg. Admittedly I haven’t used the 2kg and 5kg ones, but have increased the count with the 1kg dumbbell.
It’s useful and important to maintain your upper body strength if possible, as you’ll be relying on it a lot more, with your legs temporarily out of service. I use my arms and torso to worm around the bed, pull myself up and to help with transfers. When you can start sitting and standing, you will need your upper body muscles to pull yourself up as well.
1.2 Ankle Weights (for Strength Training Leg Exercises)
I was instructed to use ankle weights for physiotherapy after knee operation, after a few months of being able to walk again. In short, I cuff these around my ankles for strength training.
There are a few leg exercises I do with them strapped on – horizontal leg raises, side leg raises, and also knee bends backwards whilst standing. These exercises should be adapted for you by your own physiotherapist.
1.3 Exercise Bicycle (Types & What to Look Out for)
After the 3 – 4 month mark, your doctor may allow you to start physiotherapy using an exercise bicycle at home. I had no idea there were so many different types of exercise bikes on the market, such as ones that are recumbent, upright or with spin wheels.
I bought a second hand spin bike (by accident really, I thought they were just regular wheels), and cycle on it when I can. It was hard in the beginning, as my knees were still stiff and couldn’t bend much yet. It would be very helpful if you could take a look and have a feel of the bike beforehand. It was too troublesome for me to go out shopping, so I just bought the most suitable one I could find from a secondhand online marketplace.
My surgeon didn’t recommend a recumbent bike for me, as he says it doesn’t work out certain groups of muscles. But if you have problems with your upper body or limbs, a recumbent bike may be more suitable.
Things you may want to watch out for when purchasing an exercise bike:
- Adjustable height so you can get on and off.
- Ensure that it’s heavy and stable so you don’t topple over.
- Adjustable resistance, if it matters to you. I just increase the number of rounds I do.
Don’t be Discouraged, and Work with Your Physiotherapist & Doctor
The first time I tried, I couldn’t even get on the exercise bike as I couldn’t bend my knee and lift my leg high enough to put it over the other side. It gets easier over time though, as you rebuild your muscles and increase the angle your knees can bend to. Cycling in itself helps with knee bending, too.
I do both front and back paddles to exercise different groups of muscles. You may find one direction harder than the other, especially in the beginning. Take it nice and slow, and don’t push beyond your body’s current limit, as that will only set you back for days.
Do discuss with your doctor first before even buying an exercise bike. Safety is of paramount importance. You don’t want to aggravate your knee injury, or worse, break your knees or tendons again.
2. Mobility Aids (For When You Can Start Walking & Do Physiotherapy After Knee Operation Again)
2.1 Wheelchair with Leg Extensions (You’ll Need to Keep Your Legs Straight)
If you broke both patella tendons or had both knees operated on like I did, you’ll need to keep your legs flat at 180 degrees for a few weeks. As such, a regular wheelchair isn’t sufficient. You’ll need one with leg extensions that can be adjusted upwards, so that you can rest your legs flat on them.
When I could sit on an extended wheelchair instead of using the stretcher, I requested for ambulances with backlifters. You can sit on your wheelchair, and be lifted mechanically up inside them. Do ensure that it’s a backlifter and not sidelifter, as those aren’t wide enough to fit an extended wheelchair.
Every bump along the way is going to hurt in the beginning, so stability matters a great deal. You can keep your legs strapped together to help. I preferred not to, as I was worried that I would be in even more pain, should the leg extensions collapse accidentally. Many passersby were careless as they walked by.
The seat width of the wheelchair is also important. I thought that the more spacious it was, the better. But my occupational therapist said that it should be a just-right fit, so that you’re more stable and comfortable. So check with your own occupational therapist before buying one.
2.2 Electric Mobility Scooters
Many people, including my school’s accessibility office, suggested that I buy an electricity mobility scooter. The main advantage is that you can go around with greater independence. But as I was looking forward to regaining my walking ability, I rather spend the finances on another accessibility tool, as a decent mobility scooter can be quite costly.
A few things to take note of, should you decide to get an electric mobility scooter:
- Ease of Disassembly & Stowage. It should be foldable or easily disassembled if you plan to store it in the boot of a car. At the same time, it should be stable enough for sitting on and driving around.
- Plan on Getting Around. Will you need assistance to disassemble it, and how do you plan on getting into the car if you’re alone?
- Extra Battery Packs. Most of them come with battery packs, and your mobility scooter may run out of power outside. Do bring along a spare battery.
- Power. Ensure that it’s powerful enough to go up slopes.
- Adjustable Seat & Legroom. Remember to get one that’s suitable for your height, or that’s height-adjustable. Also, if you’re larger in size, do ensure that the mobility scooter you plan on getting has enough legroom.
- Purpose of Use. What will you be using your mobility scooter mainly for? There are cross-terrain, high powered ones, and also basic ones to go around your neighbourhood.
- Space for Storing Things. Will you be bringing along any other mobility aids and things, and is there enough space to store them?
2.3 A Roller Chair (for Home Use)
One of those height adjustable office chairs is good enough. A wheelchair can be pretty bulky to navigate, especially around tight spaces in my apartment. Call it a hack, but I would sit on the commode and place my legs on the roller chair to go to the shower when I was able to again. Do remember that your legs need to be flat, so you don’t want one with a backing that you can’t stretch beyond.
2.4 Walking Frame (First Thing You’ll Need to Start Walking Again)
A walking frame is the first mobility aid you’ll probably need to learn to stand and walk again after a major knee surgery. As usual, there are a few options to choose from, in various materials and features. I have one that is foldable to save space, is height-adjustable, and made of lightweight aluminium. It also has a lower handle bar which can be useful for extra support when standing or sitting slowly.
I didn’t anticipate this but I should have – lifting the frame repeatedly to walk requires the use of my hands. Which means, they get swollen pretty quickly. Compression gloves can help to cushion your hands and slow the swelling. It might also cause your arms to ache, so keep up with the upper body exercises. Our body operates as one unit, after all.
2.5 Walking Stick / Crutches / Rollators
After you’ve ‘graduated’ from the walking frame, you can start trying a walking stick. My surgeon didn’t recommend crutches as I had broken not one, but both knees. Thus, he was worried that I might fall due to instability. For that same reason, he didn’t recommend a rollator with wheels.
I know quite a few spoonies who have some pretty cool canes. You can do a search online for something that suits your style. Just don’t sacrifice stability and functionality. I selected a simple, standard quad cane for a better grip. Yes, it’s an old man’s copper brown. I’m not bothered by it, as I look forward to not needing it in future, hopefully!
3. Orthopaedic Footwear (Don’t Aggravate Your Knee Injury)
I’m fortunate that I work at an orthopaedic footwear store with a qualified Pedorthist (NOT the same as a podiatrist, though you can visit one, too), and professional shoe fitters. As such, I had my feet measurements, walking gait, and other important feet-related data there with them.
They recommended a pair of Revere walking shoes, mary janes (for when I need to wear dresses!), and two pairs of Spenco slippers for both outdoor and indoor use. My Revere shoes have a centre-stabilising feature, so I feel more steady, supported and confident when I walk. It is the pair I utilise the most, especially to go to school, or if I’m out for a long time. The Spenco Pure Slide sandals I wear are truly pure comfort, and though they aren’t cheap, they are the best I’ve ever worn, durable and I wouldn’t want to wear any other sandal or slipper anymore!
I won’t be recommending footwear here, because these should be fitted by a professional, especially after a knee surgery (or even for everyday wear). Also, there is no ‘best shoe’, because our feet are very different. There is only ‘the right shoe for you’.
A lot of people don’t realise how bad their shoes are for them. I didn’t realise myself, until I started working at Footkaki. If you’re in Singapore, you can pay them a visit. They’re nice people and their foot assessment service is free 🙂
Conclusion to Physiotherapy After Knee Operation
As you can see, physiotherapy after knee operation and the equipment you’ll need comes in a series of progression. They are tools there to help you rebuild your muscle strength, and ability to walk again. Mobility aids should not be seen as something to be embarrassed about, because at the end of they day, it’s your health at stake and not someone else’s.
It’s also vital to work with your own physiotherapist to prevent further injury, and to recuperate maximum walking ability. Wishing you a speedy recovery, and don’t forget to check out the links below for more tips and resources for knee surgery home care!“#MobilityAids should not be seen as something to be embarrassed about, because at the end of they day, it’s your #health at stake and not someone else’s.” #physiotherapy #KneeSurgery #disability Click To Tweet
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