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Physical Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis

It is common practice to see patients in physical therapy within the first week after a total knee replacement, but what about before their surgery? Many patients disregard the effects of PT before a joint replacement with statements like “I’m just going to have surgery anyway.” However, evidence is increasing that many patients do better if they come to PT during the early signs of knee osteoarthritis, prior to their replacement.

A total knee replacement is a surgery to combat knee osteoarthritis, which is a generalized breakdown of the joint. Because the hardware doesn’t last forever, patients tend to put this surgery off as long as possible as a means of preventing a revision later in life. During this time, patients often see their strength and range of motion decline. This decreased strength can greatly impact their function both before and after surgery.

At this time, evidence for PT prior to total knee replacements (or other surgeries including ACL repairs, total hip replacements, etc) is looking positive. In fact, pre-operative strength of quadriceps muscle is a strong predictor of function at 1 year after total knee surgery. Even with osteoarthritis, strength gains are possible in your leg musculature, and these resultant strength gains will set you up for even more success in the future. Additionally, your physical therapist will work with the dynamics of your knee making sure that your joint is tracking in an optimal alignment to prevent soft tissue pain. Even if you do eventually have a total knee replacement, there are gains to be made with physical therapy both before and after your surgery in order to keep you moving at your best.

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