The Best Leg Strengthening Exercises After Surgery

Your leg muscles may become weak after you have hip, knee, ankle, or foot surgery. This happens because you aren't using those muscles as much while you recover. That's why it's important to start strengthening them once your doctor says it's time to. Gaining back the strength you lost after an injury or surgery is an important step in your recovery.

This article discusses the benefits of exercise after surgery. It will also teach you how to do some basic strengthening exercises that will help you recover.

Physical therapist stretching mans leg

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Benefits of Exercise

Leg exercises after surgery have several benefits, including:

  • Building back strength
  • Preventing blood clots
  • Preventing pressure sores

Your leg muscles act like a pump when you contract them, moving blood through your veins. This can help prevent blood clots. Being able to move in bed after surgery also helps keep pressure sores from forming.

Work with a physical therapist (PT) to find the leg exercises that are right for you. This is an important step as you move forward after surgery.

Check with your doctor before you start this or any other exercise program.

Getting Started

Your first exercises should target all the major muscles of the leg. Here are a few to get you started.

Gluteal Sets

To do this exercise:

  1. Lie on your back and tighten your buttock muscles as if you were holding back flatulence.
  2. Hold your muscles tight for 5 seconds, then relax.
  3. Repeat 10 or 15 times.

Gluteal sets can be done several times per day. This exercise is isometric, which means your muscles work while no motion is occurring at your hip joints.

Heel Slide

To do this exercise:

  1. Lie on your back. Bend the knee of your surgical leg as you slowly slide your heel toward your buttock.
  2. Slide as far as you can and hold for 5 seconds.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.


Simple exercises like gluteal sets and heel slides can help you regain strength in the major muscles of your leg.

Short Arc Quad

The short arc quad (SAQ) is a simple way to get your quadricep muscles working after injury or surgery. To do this exercise:

  1. Lie on your back with a towel roll, basketball, or something similar under your knee.
  2. Slowly straighten your knee.
  3. Tighten your quad muscle on the top of your thigh.
  4. Hold for 3 seconds, then relax.
  5. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Quad Set

To do the quad set:

  1. Lie on your back. Try to press the back of your knee flat against the floor.
  2. Hold for 10 seconds and release.
  3. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

This exercise helps get your quad muscles working. It also helps control the position of your kneecap. This is a good exercise to do if you have patellofemoral stress syndrome (PFSS), also called runner's knee.


Your quadriceps straighten your leg at the knee and help keep your kneecap in place. 

Straight Leg Raise

To do the straight leg raise:

  1. Lie on your back. Lift your leg straight up until it is about 12 inches off the floor.
  2. Hold for 10 seconds and slowly lower.
  3. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Be sure to keep your knee straight for the entire exercise. Keep the opposite knee bent for comfort. You can make the SLR more challenging by adding a 2- to 3-pound ankle weight.

Hamstring Strengthening

Your hamstring muscles bend your knee and extend your hip backward. Keeping your hamstrings strong after injury or surgery can help you walk normally again.

To do this exercise:

  1. Lie on your stomach. Gently raise your leg.
  2. Hold for 5 seconds and lower slowly.
  3. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Once you can do this exercise with ease, try adding a 2- to 3-pound ankle weight.


When you're ready, adding an ankle weight is a great way to make these exercises more challenging.

Physical Therapy and Home Exercise

Physical therapy can help you regain mobility after injury or surgery. It can also help if you're just having a hard time walking or moving normally.

Your PT may prescribe leg exercises as part of your home exercise program. Over time, you may progress from simple exercises to more challenging ones. Improving your balance can also help your mobility.

With hard work, physical therapy and at-home exercises can help you get back to optimal function and mobility quickly and safely.


Leg exercises can help you regain mobility after surgery or an injury. They can also help prevent complications like blood clots and pressure sores. 

Work with a physical therapist to find the right exercises for your situation. Doing your exercises consistently will help you regain mobility quickly and safely.

A Word From Verywell

Pain after surgery can make it hard to move around. After your procedure, check in with your PT as soon as you are able. The sooner you get started on your physical therapy and leg exercises, the faster your recovery will be.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hoogeboom TJ, Dronkers JJ, Hulzebos EH, van Meeteren NL. Merits of exercise therapy before and after major surgeryCurr Opin Anaesthesiol. 2014;27(2):161–166. doi:10.1097/ACO.0000000000000062

  2. Madara KC, Marmon A, Aljehani M, Hunter-Giordano A, Zeni J Jr, Raisis L. Progressive rehabilitation after total hip arthroplasty: a pilot and feasibility studyInt J Sports Phys Ther. 2019;14(4):564–581.

By Laura Inverarity, DO
 Laura Inverarity, PT, DO, is a current board-certified anesthesiologist and former physical therapist.