Here are great upper body exercises to do while recovering from a total knee replacement.

Total knee replacement doesn’t mean that two days after surgery, you’re bouncing around on your new titanium knee.

It takes weeks of therapy to get the body used to total knee replacement.

But a person with new total knee replacement must not neglect upper body exercise routines.

Total knee replacement surgery means that the patient not only is confined to a walker for days, but can only be up and about for very limited periods of time.

Ravedave, CC BY-SA

Following surgery, the patient will be spending a lot of time in a seated position, but from here, he or she can conduct exercise routines for upper body muscles.

The patient’s upper body muscles will benefit tremendously from weightlifting workouts.

Just because a person is confined pretty much to a chair doesn’t mean they shouldn’t perform exercise routines for the shoulders, back and arm muscles.

Upper Body Exercises You Can Do Following Knee Replacement Surgery

Dumbbells are a must. Several pairs of dumbbells should already be waiting for the patient’s arrival home.

The patient must sit in a stable seat that has no arm rests. Such seats can be found at many different stores.

The rule of thumb is to work whatever you CAN, and in the case of total knee replacement, it’s the upper body.

Biceps Curl

There are many ways to engage the biceps. One way is called concentration curls, and only one dumbbell is needed, as shown below. Plant your elbow in a comfortable spot on your upper leg, and begin curling.

Shutterstock/Marcos Casiano

Side Raise

Hang arms straight at sides, then simply raise them on either side of you so that arms are parallel or a little past parallel with floor. Go no higher, then lower the dumbbells. Though it’s usually done standing, it can also be done while seated.

Shoulder Flexion (Front Raise)

Hold dumbbells with any palm angle, and, keeping arms straight and shoulders relaxed, lift them up in front of you so that your arms are parallel with floor. Go no higher, then lower. Can be done seated.


Shoulder Press

Hold dumbbells (or soup cans) at shoulder level, elbows pointing to floor, palms facing away from you. Now, simply push them above your head, straightening your arms., katemangostar

Triceps Press

Hold a dumbbell above your head, arms straight.

Keeping upper arms fixed in place, bend only lower arms so that the weight is behind your head, elbows pointing to ceiling. Then straighten arms.

Overhead Band Pull

Hold either end of an elastic exercise band and pull in opposite directions.  Of course, do NOT copy the model’s lower body. Do this exercise while seated in a chair.

Shutterstock/Alexander Raths


Loop a band around a secure object, then begin pulling the handles towards your chest. For a knee replacement patient, this exercise is best done while seated.

Shutterstock/Aaron Amat

How many sets?

I recommend four sets per exercise with 1-2 minutes’ rest in between. You have all the time in the world, remember.

Also realize that total knee replacement means severe restriction in calorie-burning. It’s unlikely that you can overdo upper body exercises.

How many reps?

Eight to 20. If you can do more than 20, use heavier weights.

How often?

Never do the same exercise two days in a row. Three times a week will work if you apply moderate effort; and twice a week will work if you apply intense effort.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 



Top image: Scientific Animations, Creative Commons/BY-SA/Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International