If you have ever had a knee injury, then you know that the most difficult aspect is not the injury or the surgery, but rather the physical therapy and exercises needed to rebuild strength in your knee. This can be tricky as you not only need to rebuild strength, but you don’t want to overdo it, and you want to make sure that you don’t injury your healthy knee in the process. Now, opinions on the best ways to recover vary and while a lot of it depends on the specifics of your injury, I wanted to share some of my personal experiences on the best ways to rehab a knee injury.
Don’t Rush it
One thing to know about knee surgery or even ankle surgery is that your instinct is to want to get into the rehab room as soon as possible. This is normal, I mean why would you have gone through the surgery if you did not want you knee to be better than it was before?
However, rushing your recovery is one of the worst possible things you can do. This is especially true after surgery as the ligaments and tendons in your knee are still sore from the surgery. As such, you want to follow your doctor’s advice as it is based on the combined experience of hundreds, if not thousands, of similar procedures.
About Strength and Conditioning
One thing to know about strength and conditioning is that your goal should not be just to get your knee back to normal strength. Instead, the focus should be to build all the surrounding muscles to make sure the type of injury does not happen again. This even holds true if your surgery was knee replacement. The reason behind this thinking is that you can strengthen your knees to make sure the type of injury you incurred never happens again.
Now a key part of this is putting together a recovery plan with your doctor and your physical therapist. As part of this plan, they will ask you your goals and will figure out ways to measure your progress – this way you don’t get disheartened during the arduous rehab sessions. You might be surprised but this will probably include work on your core muscles as well as the major muscle groups in your legs. This will help to make sure that your entire lower body is in the best physical condition possible.
A big plus from this approach is that you will not only recovery from your surgery, but you will end up being in better overall physical condition that you were before your surgery. Exercises include squats, deadlifts, leg presses, and other exercises. However, remember my previous point – don’t rush it. Follow you plan in terms of pre-workout stretches, weight, reps, frequency, and even cool down. The key to a complete recovery is to be methodical in your approach.
Physical Therapy is not Weight Training
As mentioned the goal of physical therapy is to strengthen your muscles and to get you back into great condition. However, it is not like most people are training to win a Gold Medal in Olympic Weightlifting – even if you are an athlete.
To gain strength during your rehab, you will need to focus on simple, yet effective drills which will help you to regain both strength and mobility. One such exercise is called ‘bench squats’. This is a form of squat which follows the natural motion of your knees. In addition, bench squats are designed to make sure you do not overstretch you knees – especially during the early stages of your rehab as the bench is slightly inclined.
From there you can adjust the bench gradually as your recovery progresses. This way you can regain strength and conditioning without putting untoward stress on your knees. Another plus is that you can do bench squats without your physical therapist – though you will want someone to spot you.
Listen to Your Knees
While some joint pain during recovery from knee surgery is normal, you do want to listen to your knees. In the beginning, it can be a bit tricky as it will test your pain threshold, but as your recovery quickens you want to make sure you are no overdoing it. One trick is to talk to your physical therapist and work out ways to reference your pain or discomfort and measure it on a scale. This will give you a reference point and will allow you to better understand what your body is telling you.
Again, some pain or discomfort is normal. What you want to do is learn how to harness this pain. In some cases, it is just lactic acid in your muscles – this is like the muscle burn you feel during intense exercise.
It’s the sharp, biting pain, or bone clicks that you want to watch out for. While these might be symptoms of improper stretching, they could also be signs of issues with your recovery. If sharp, biting pain or bone clicking happens stop what you are doing and talk to your physical therapist and your doctor.
Another thing to know is that pain medication SLOWS recovery. Sure, you feel good when you take these pills, but the medicine also covers up the pain you might be feeling and this could increase the chances of reinjury.
To recap, don’t rush it, focus on rebuilding strength and conditioning not just in your knees but in the entire region, also create a plan, remember physical therapy is not weight training, and listen to your knees. If you follow these tips, you will be better than new in no time at all.