Ankle Pumps Exercise
Marian Barnick

Marian Barnick

Registered Kinesiologist and Human Movement Specialist



How To Reduce Leg Swelling After Surgery

A Total Knee Arthroplasty, otherwise known as a total knee replacement is a serious surgery that requires extensive recovery time.  In order to gain the best functional recovery your participation in post surgery rehabilitation is essential. 


Reduce Swelling After Knee Surgery

Your number one goal after knee replacement surgery is to reduce the swelling in the leg.  Swelling occurs in the leg after knee surgery due to the trauma caused to the tissues during surgery.  Your knee may continue to have swelling up to 6 months after total knee replacement surgery and this is considered normal. 




total knee arthroplasty

Aside from the trauma of surgery, immobility is another risk factor to be aware when it comes to leg swelling after surgery.  When you’re stationary after surgery it limits how much of the fluid can be drained from the leg so movement is going to be the best way to decrease fluid retention in the leg after knee surgery. 


Of course, you’re knee isn’t going to want to move right after surgery and there’s going to be limited knee range of motion right after surgery.  So we need another way to get movement into the leg, get that fluid moving, and decrease the swelling. 

Fluid Retention in Leg After Knee Surgery


It’s inevitable that you’re going to have fluid retention after knee surgery but you want to reduce the swelling as soon as you’re able for two main reasons.


1. Your ability to improve joint mobility and work on range of motion exercises will be easier with less swelling. Swelling restrictions joint range of motion and it also increases pain – two things you don’t want after surgery!


2. In addition, swollen tissues don’t heal well. The process that takes place in order for your soft tissues like tendons, ligaments, and muscles to repair is slower and less efficient when you’ve got congestion or swelling.


That’s why the Ankle Pumps Exercise is really important because the longer you’re stationary, the more fluid can build up.  


So starting your post surgery rehab exercises as soon as possible after total knee replacement surgery is going to give you better results.  Of course, this is with the approval of your surgeon or treating practitioners. 

Ankle Pumps Exercise

Knee Surgery Recovery Time


Swelling also inhibits your neuromuscular connections – how your brain talks to your muscles.  And this means restoring proper movement and function will be sub-optimal and your rehabilitation will take longer. 


The goal of post surgery rehab is to get you to the point of automating your movement again.  That means you don’t have to think about what you’re doing and your body automatically performs the proper positioning to complete the task. 


If you automate without proper neuromuscular connections your body develops movement compensations which means long term risk factors including joint wear-and-tear as well as muscle pain and dysfunction.  It also means a much longer recovery time.

total knee replacement surgery

Ankle Pumps Exercise

How To Get Rid of Swelling After Knee Replacement

The easiest way to work on swelling after total knee replacement surgery – or after any knee surgery – is with the Ankle Pumps Exercise.  Watch the video to see how easy this exercise is to do and how knee movement isn’t required to get the great benefits of this simple exercise.

Movement is key to work on drainage because it activates the lymphatic system. 

lymphatic system swelling

The lymphatic system is a network of vessels, tissues, and organs that help to rid the body of waste, excess fluid, and other toxins.  


The vessels of the lymphatic system transport a clear fluid called lymph from tissues throughout the body to the bloodstream.


 Along the way, the lymphatic system also helps to filter out harmful substances and supports the immune system by producing and storing immune cells.  By flowing throughout the entire body, the lymphatic system helps to maintain fluid balance and overall health.


The lymphatic system does not have a pump like the heart to circulate fluid so it’s imperative that movement is part of your post surgery rehabilitation to get the fluid moving in your legs. 


The movement created by contracting and relaxing muscles pushes the lymph along the vessels and towards the bloodstream.  The one-way valves in the lymphatic vessels prevent the fluid from flowing backward, helping to ensure that the lymph moves in the right direction.

exercises for stiff knee after surgery

Post Knee Replacement Exercises

After knee surgery, your knee range of motion is limited – and your doctor probably doesn’t want you moving your knee too much or at all (depending on the type of surgery) so movement of the ankle is what’s going to activate the lymphatic system.


The Ankle Pumps Exercise contract and relax the lower muscles in the leg without disturbing the knee joint.  This movement of the muscles will squeeze the fluid through the lymphatic system and reduce the swelling in the leg. 

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