Skip links

Physiotherapy after knee surgery – activating quadriceps


You might find some muscle wastage in your quadricep muscles after knee surgery or maybe getting some pain in the front of your thigh. This is common in this situation so don’t be alarmed by it but getting this muscle strong again is vital to getting back to normality.

Knee surgery often involves cutting and putting back together the quadricep tendon which connects just above the kneecap. This results in weakness to the muscle and inability to move it immediately after surgery which goes on to cause atrophy (muscle wastage) of 1-3% of the muscle mass per day it is unused. Activating the muscle is essential to pain reduction and recovery. 

A bit about the Quadriceps

The quadricep is formed of a number of different muscles where their roles are to straighten the knee, flex the hip and adduct the hip. In day-to-day life, examples of its responsibilities are assisting in walking, running, jumping or climbing stairs as well as general knee stability. This is why it is so important to activate the quad muscles post surgery, in order to keep the knee stabilized and be able to perform day-to-day activities. Performing the below exercises will also decrease recovery time after surgery. 


Lying knee extensions

  • Lay on your back with the affected knee out straight and your healthy knee bent with your foot placed on the floor.
  • Place a rolled up towel underneath your recovering knee.
  • Tense your quadricep muscle by trying to push the back of your knee towards the floor against the towel. 
  • Hold the tension for 5 seconds and then release. Repeat 12 times. 


Seated knee extensions

  • Sit upright on a chair with your legs bent.
  • Slowly, for 3 seconds, straighten the recovering leg out straight in front of you and then bring it back for 3 seconds to the starting position. Repeat this 10 times. 


Straight leg raise

  • Lie flat on your back with your legs extended out in front of you.
  • Slowly, for 5 seconds, whilst keeping the affected leg straight, raise it as far as possible within your comfort zone and hold at the top for 2-3 seconds. 
  • Bring the leg back down slowly for 5 seconds and then repeat 12 times. 


Step ups

  • Stand in front of a set of stairs or a stable raised surface.
  • Lift the affected leg and place it on the first stair or raised surface. Use a handrail or wall for balance if necessary. 
  • Raise yourself up onto the stair by straightening the leg and keeping the opposing leg floating behind the stair and hold for 2-3 seconds. 
  • Slowly bring yourself back down to the floor and into the starting position. Repeat this exercise 15 times.

For further questions and advice regarding exercise or post surgery rehabilitation, don’t hesitate to get in contact with a member of our team so we can help you to reach your goals!

Return to top of page