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How to improve range of motion in your knee

Exercises to Improve Range of Motion and Flexibility following Total Knee Replacement

With a large backlog of individuals awaiting elective surgeries to be performed, we would like to share different variations of improving your ability to bend and straighten your knee following a total knee replacement procedure.

Restoring Full Knee Extension Range of Motion

Achieving full knee extension is the first goal of therapy following a total knee replacement. We need to be able to attain 0 deg of knee extension in order to be able to walk correctly without compensation. Here are three ways to improve knee extension following a total knee replacement.

Knee Extension with Heel Prop

  • Place a towel roll under ankle while sitting or lying
  • Completely relax your leg
  • Your knee will move downward towards surface as gravity stretches the knee
  • Try to relax and hold stretch for 2-3 minutes

Knee Extension with Chair Prop

  • While sitting, prop your foot onto another chair
  • Relax and allow gravity to stretch your knee into a more straightened position
  • You should mainly feel this in the back of the knee and leg
  • Try to relax and hold stretch for 2-3 minute
Knee extension with chair

Seated Quad Set

  • While sitting, straighten knee and place heel firmly on ground
  • Tighten the top of your thigh muscle to press back of knee towards the ground
  • Hold contraction for 3-5 seconds
  • Relax and repeat for 20 repetitions

Improving Knee Flexion Range of Motion

Knee flexion is important to reduce hip stress and improve function like climbing stairs, and rises.  Here are three ways to improve knee flexion following a total knee replacement.

Heel slides

  • Place a small towel under your heel
  • Loop a towel, dog leash or belt around your foot
  • Pull your foot towards your butt causing your knee to bend
  • Hold for a deep breath once your knee has bent as far as it will go
  • Allow your foot to slide forward back to the starting position
  • Repeat for 1-2 sets of 10-15 reps multiple times a day

Self Assisted Knee Flexion in chair

  • Place a small towel under your heel
  • Position unaffected leg over the top of the shin of the operated leg
  • Use your unaffected leg to bend your operated knee until a stretch is felt
  • Hold stretch for a deep breath
  • Relax and allow affected leg to slide forward
  • Repeat for 1-2 sets of 10-15 reps multiple times a day

Wall Slides

  • Place a towel under your heel
  • Lay on your back with both legs up a wall or closed door
  • Slowly bend the operated knee so that your heel slides down into a stretch
  • Hold stretch for a deep breath
  • Actively return the operated leg to the original position
  • Repeat for 1-2 sets of 10-15 reps multiple times a day

If you have questions about what you can do to improve your knee mobility after a total knee replacement, contact Cory Tatman, PT, DPT at (623) 248-8830 or email him at   Also you can follow Dr. Tatman on our social media links below.


  1. Hi
    I am unable to pedal a bicycle. How do I increase the range of motion of my knees to be able to pedal one full circle. I cannot touch my heel when I fold my leg backwards. I am 59 yrs old and want to be able to ride a bicycle. Thanks. Amita

    1. Hello Amita, thank you for reaching out to us. Without knowing your specific condition that is impeding your knee range of motion it is hard to provide you with specific advice on how to improve it. We recommend you consult with a local medical professional to guide you on the best course of action to improve your knee flexion. If you live near one of our offices, we would be more than happy to set up an appointment with one of our providers. Let us know how we can help!

  2. Hello
    This is shinde tukaram 27 years old
    I have meet with an accident 2 months ago
    Unfortunately my petalla has Broken in to 4 pieces so surgery has taken place at present my bone has recovered and physiotherapy has started but my knee has become very stiff it is not bending please suggest what to do
    Thank you

    1. Hello Tukaram,
      Have you discussed this issue with your physical therapist? They should be able to help you with the specifics of addressing your lack of knee bend. Without knowing the specifics of your injury and the procedure performed to repair your patella, it will be hard to provide any specific recommendations if you are dealing with precautions at this time.

  3. Hello, name is Chandan.
    I meet with accident 3 month ago femur broken and had ACL injury which is fixed by screwing. Due to rest of leg and weight bearing I can’t bend my knee with help of physical therapy after 20 day achieved 80° and 90° with help of pressure and 105° CMP machine. Knee was stiffed and inflammation but day by day reducing. Only have side of tigh and hamstring stiff. I have to start my office soon. Kindly suggest me. if I start office and do basic exercise will help me or what?

    1. Hello Chandan,
      Sorry you had an accident that injured your leg. It would be difficult for us to give a specific recommendation on your current condition without a thorough evaluation. After surgical procedures it is important to follow you physician and physical therapist’s recommendation in order to ensure your proper recovery. I would recommend you consult with your local providers regarding this matter. Best in health!

  4. I didnt know that by pushing the back of my knee into bed to get a straight leg had a small block of time (7-10 days) or it would remain bent, or I would have pushed harder during that time. I also didn’t know that the pulling the heel towards my butt for the full range of motion also had only a 7-10 day block of time. I’m about 15 days post op now from a TKR. 2 days ago when I learned all of this, it made me depressed. Im really struggling with range of motion terribly now after a TKR. We did do other exercises but i feel these 2 excercises should have been done daily. I had 4 other knee surgeries in the past & i remember i always did 3 sets of 10 of these 2 exercises. Why not with the replacement?? Is it too late for me to get full range?? Help please Im in the woods. Thank you!!

    1. Hello Michele, sorry you are experiencing anxiety about your recovery from TKR surgery. Recovery can take some time. In PT we look at weeks 1-4 to reduce swelling, increase range of motion, and begin light strengthening and stabilization of the knee. So you are in the early phases of your recovery. Every surgery will have different recovery times and recommended treatment protocols. Consult with your orthopedic surgeon and/or local physical therapist to help give you the best advice to meet your individual needs. Hope this helps!

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