What are knee and leg physical therapy and rehabilitation?

You may need physical therapy if you have surgery or injure your knee or leg. Physical therapy is part of a rehabilitation program while your knee or leg heals.

Physical therapy helps strengthen a weak knee or leg so it can heal. The exercises help strengthen your knee or leg so you can get back to your activities. These exercises are part of your rehabilitation program — a set of treatments that can help your leg or knee return to normal functioning.

What to expect from knee and leg physical therapy and rehabilitation

There are many different exercises and techniques for knee and leg rehabilitation. During your first session, your physical therapist examines your knee or leg. That helps them determine what exercises and techniques you need. To locate trouble areas, you may need to show your therapist how you walk on a treadmill or how you jump up and down. You can discuss your goals together.

Once your plan is in place, you may have physical therapy sessions at least once to several times a week for a certain length of time. In between sessions, you may need to do various exercises at home. As you heal and become stronger, you progress in your therapeutic exercises. 

Examples of physical therapy exercises and techniques for knee and leg rehabilitation include:

  • Leg lifts
  • Wall squats
  • Gait training
  • Hamstring curls
  • Stretching exercises
  • Balancing exercises
  • Ultrasound massage
  • Ice and heat treatment
  • Load-bearing exercises
  • Electrical nerve/muscle stimulation (also called TENS, it boosts blood flow)

As your knee or leg becomes stronger, your therapist may suggest light exercises, such as biking or swimming.

Common conditions that require knee and leg physical therapy and rehabilitation

Knee and leg problems are common for people of all ages. Here are some of the most common problems that physical therapy can help:

  • Arthritis
  • Shin splints
  • Chronic pain
  • Hamstring injury
  • Joint replacement
  • Meniscus tears (knee)
  • Achilles tendon injury
  • Atrophied muscles (from non-use)
  • IT band syndrome (sides of your thighs)

You may feel stiff or sore after a session. It's okay to rest your knee or leg. Let your physical therapist know if an exercise or treatment is making your pain worse. The therapist can adjust your plan to relieve your pain.

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