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Weight-Bearing Exercises After Arthroscopic Knee Surgery
Arthroscopy is a common surgical procedure in which a joint is viewed with a small camera through an incision to repair damage from an injury. The knee is the largest and most complicated joint in the human body; because it is so integral to human movement, the knee is susceptible to many different kinds of injuries. Arthroscopy removes or repair cartilage, ligaments and bones, followed by physical therapy.
Weight-bearing exercise describes any kind of physical activity in which the body part in question bears weight against the force of gravity. The repeated stress of weight-bearing exercise causes the bone to thicken and strengthen, so it is a vital part of rehabilitation. But that stress means the knee is typically too fragile immediately after surgery to bear against gravity the weight of many exercises that put extensive or undue pressure on the legs.
Examples of weight-bearing exercises include walking, jogging, hiking, climbing stairs, dancing, weight training, certain calisthenics and anything else in which the knees must bear the weight of the rest of the body. Swimming would not count; the legs are buoyed by the water. Cycling also is not considered weight bearing, because the legs are hanging in the air. Those exercises that are weight bearing, however, require some recovery time. Walking in a normal gait can usually be attempted as the pain and discomfort begin to subside. More intensive exercises are often done in the final stages of recovery to restore the last vestiges of normal function that were present before the injury.
After surgery, you are typically advised to practice "weight bearing as tolerated," which means that you can put as much weight on your operated leg as you are comfortable with. However, most patients will usually require some kind of cane or crutch immediately after surgery to take the weight off the operated leg. Other impediments to weight-bearing exercises include swelling, stiffness, lack of knee motion and pain. Therefore, most patients begin rehabilitation with some kind of basic non-weight-bearing exercise.
Depending upon the severity of the injury, recovery from the standard surgery may occur as quickly as five weeks or as long as six months. Normal activities and function will gradually recover over time. If you have had to endure drilling or microfracture surgery, then you will only start out with about a quarter of your normal weight-bearing capacity; full drilling of the kneecap can take as long as four to nine months to fully recover from, because the newly regenerated cartilage must grow and mature. It is only toward the end of these recovery periods that full weight-bearing capacity is restored.