Favorite Leg Strengthening Exercises

After surgery to the hip, knee, ankle or foot, the muscles of the leg often become weak from decreased use or from inhibition due to pain. For this reason, it is important to begin strengthening these muscles once your physician gives you the green light to do so. Gaining back strength that you have lost after injury or surgery is an important step in obtaining a full recovery.

Initial exercises should target all the major muscles of the leg.

Before you start this or any other exercise program, check in with your doctor to ensure that exercise is safe for you to do. Here are a few leg exercises to get you started on your rehab:

  1. Gluteal Sets: While lying on your back, tighten your buttock muscles as if you were holding back flatulence. Hold your muscles tight for 5 seconds, and then relax. You can repeat the exercise for 10 to 15 repetitions. Gluteal sets can be done several times per day. Gluteal sets are an isometric form of strengthening your hips, your muscles work while no motion is occurring at your hip joints.
  2. Heel SlideWhile lying on your back, bend your knee as you slowly slide the heel of your operated leg up toward your buttock. Slide as far as you can and hold for five seconds. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat again.
  3. Short Arc Quad: The short arc quad (SAQ) is a simple way to get your quad muscles working after injury or surgery. To do the SAQ, lie on your back with a bolster like a towel roll or basketball underneath your knee. Slowly straighten your knee, and then tighten your quad muscle on the top of your thigh. Hold this for 3 seconds, and then relax. Repeat the exercise for 10 to 15 repetitions.
  1. Quad Set: While lying on your back, try pressing the back of your knee flat against the floor. Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat 10 to 15 repetitions. This exercise helps to get your quad muscles working after surgery or injury, and they help to control the position of your kneecap. This may important to do if you have patellofemoral stress syndrome (PFSS).
  1. Straight Leg Raise (SLR): While lying on your back, lift your leg straight up about 12 inches off the floor. Hold for 10 seconds and slowly lower. Repeat 10 to 15 repetitions. Be sure to keep your knee joint straight the entire exercise. You can make the SLR more challenging by adding a 2 to 3 pound cuff weight to the end of your ankle while doing the exercise.
  2. Hamstring Strengthening: Your hamstring muscles work to bend your knee and extend your hip backwards. Keeping your hamstrings strong after injury or surgery can help you return to normal walking ability.  While lying on your stomach, raise your leg backward about 12 inches. Hold for 5 seconds and slowly lower. Repeat for 10 to 15 repetitions. You can make this exercise more challenging by adding a 2 or 3 pound cuff weight to the end of your ankle while performing the exercise.

If you have any lower extremity injury or have had surgery, or if you are simply having a difficult time walking or performing normal functional mobility, you may benefit from physical therapy to help you return to optimal mobility.

Your PT may prescribe leg exercises much like these ones as part of your home exercise program. You may progress from simple leg exercise - like these - to more challenging advanced exercises. Don't forget the importance of working on your balance and how that can help your mobility as well.

Working hard doing these leg exercises in physical therapy and at home can help you return to your optimal level of function and mobility quickly and safely.

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