A new study suggests that a carefully focused program of muscle strengthening can make an important difference in how well patients recover after knee replacement. Patients who underwent six weeks of progressive muscle strengthening aimed at the quadriceps did much better than patients given conventional treatment. The study appears in the February issue of Arthritis Care & Research. Almost 500,000 knee replacements are done in the United States each year, and patients often report that they still have problems doing things like walking and climbing. For the study, more than 200 patients were divided into groups and given different treatments about four weeks after surgery. One received conventional treatment. Another was also given quadriceps strengthening, while a third was given the strengthening and electrical stimulation to make the muscles contract.
While the electrical stimulation did not appear to make a difference, the muscle strengthening appeared to bring the patients back to a level of functioning almost normal for their age. One of the authors, Lynn Snyder-Mackler of the University of Delaware, said in an e-mail message that knee replacement patients and their doctors should not underestimate the ability “to really improve their function.”