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September 23, 2022

Prepare for Joint Surgery with Provider-Guided Plan for Exercise, Movement

ThedaCare Orthopedic Teams Coordinate Recovery with Physical Activity

If you’ve been dealing with progressive pain in your knee, hip or shoulder — and decide that you’re ready to proceed with a replacement surgery to help resolve the pain — ThedaCare Orthopedic teams say it’s important to keep moving. 

In fact, experts at ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain say patients can and should keep exercising right up to their surgery, with proper guidance from their providers. 

“Each surgery, individual and circumstance is different,” explained Samantha Burmeister, a Nurse Practitioner with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “It is important to listen to your surgeon’s and physical therapist’s guidance on exercise limitations to prevent further injury. Moving frequently prior to surgery and completing a physical therapy session, if indicated, have shown to reduce postoperative complications and promote a quicker recovery time.” 

Joint replacement surgery most often is needed in those patients who have experienced degenerative changes in the joint, typically adults over 50. Favorite activities can be modified to ease pain. For example, if a person is a runner, they might switch to an elliptical machine or a biking routine, said Madalyn Vander Loop, a Physical Therapist with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care.  

For general health, experts recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week. 

“If 150 minutes seems challenging, it’s perfectly acceptable to work your way up to that goal,” Burmeister said. “For most people, walking and pool exercises can be a great place to start. Once exercise becomes less difficult, people can increase speed, resistance or duration to keep challenging our bodies.” 

The region has plenty of great fitness centers and walking trails in our area that patients can pursue. If they feel like they need some additional guidance, ThedaCare offers a self-pay program in Appleton called MedFit that patients can be referred into for 12 weeks, Burmeister said. 

“Surgery is not a pre-requisite for the MedFit program, so this is a really great option for people in our community who want to improve their fitness,” explained Burmeister. 

In preparation for some surgeries, providers may recommend that patients complete a ‘prehabilitation’ session with a physical therapist. 

“During this therapy session, patients will be educated with exercises to improve their current strength, and they will be advised on limitations post-surgery,” said Burmeister. “They’ll also gain a greater understanding of what movement looks like post-surgery.” 

Therapy teams can offer specific activities that patients should be doing to maximize range of motion and build strength for optimal outcomes after the surgery, Vander Loop said. 

“The more range of motion you have and the more strength you have prior to surgery, the better your outcomes will likely be after surgery,” she said. 

Activity for Specific Joint Replacement Surgery  

How a patient exercises prior to and following surgery also can depend on which joint is replaced. For knees and hips, it’s best to stay as active as possible. Knee exercises prior to surgery can maximize flexion and help build muscle memory, which helps the body to better perform necessary post-op exercises. 

Likewise, strengthening hips is extremely important prior to replacing either a hip or a knee as the hips help keep you stable when walking, Vander Loop said. Additionally, maintaining a good cardiovascular health plays a big role in recovery as well. 

For shoulders, it’s key to maintain a good range of motion prior to surgery with simple exercises. That can include sliding your arm up a wall or laying on your back while holding onto a cane or a broomstick with both hands and raising arms overhead, Vander Loop said. 

Once surgery is complete, each patient will receive guidance from their surgeon on recovery times and activity expectations, but overall, continuing to move is extremely important, Burmeister said.  

“A general rule is to perform short, frequent movement, walks or exercise instead of one long session,” she noted. “This can help prevent stiffness and pain post-surgery, and can also help prevent blood clots.” 

Recovery times vary greatly depending on the type of surgery and the individual’s baseline mobility. In addition to exercise, it’s also important for patients to drink adequate amounts of water and have a balanced diet to help with wound healing. 

After surgery, physical therapists will set up a post-op exercise program to strengthen and expand range of motion of the joint. Vander Loop noted right after surgery, teams tend to focus on healing.  

“You don’t want to overdo it with activity,” she said. “We generally say get up once an hour, go to the bathroom, or get a drink of water. Especially in the first couple weeks, we tell our patients to focus on icing and on elevating.” 

The new ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain offers a shared space for providers, allowing physical therapists to easily consult with physicians. The facility also has a large rehabilitative space with exercise equipment, running lanes, a basketball court and turf areas to help patients get back to the activities they love.  

“ThedaCare has great physical and occupational therapists to help you with this journey,” Burmeister said. “Therapy can be completed on an outpatient, inpatient or home-care basis. Your surgical team will help you navigate which option you may qualify for to fit your individual needs. We want our patients to feel supported, every step of the way.” 

About ThedaCare 

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care. 

For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.