Prepare for joint surgery with a provider-guided plan for exercise and movement – ThedaCare

If you’re dealing with increasing pain in your knee, hip or shoulder—and decide you’re ready to proceed with an alternative surgery to help resolve the pain—the ThedaCare Orthopedic team says it’s important to keep moving.

In fact, experts at ThedaCare Medical Center for Orthopedics, Spine and Pain say patients can and should continue to exercise until surgery, with proper guidance from their providers.

“Every surgery, individual and circumstances are different,” explained Samantha Burmeister, a registered nurse practitioner with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “It is important to listen to your surgeon and physical therapist’s instructions about exercise limitations to prevent further injury. Moving frequently before surgery and completing a physical therapy session, if needed, has been shown to reduce postoperative complications and promote faster recovery time.”

Joint replacement surgery is often required in patients who have experienced degenerative changes in the joint, usually adults over the age of 50. Preferred activities can be modified to relieve pain. For example, if a person is a runner, they might switch to an elliptical machine or a cycling routine, said Madeleine Vander Loeb, a physical therapist with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care.


For general health, experts recommend at least 150 minutes of exercise per week.

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

In the area there are a lot of great fitness centers and walking trails in our area that patients can follow. If they feel they need some additional guidance, ThedaCare offers a self-pay program at Appleton called MedFit to which patients can be referred for 12 weeks, Burmeister said.

“Surgery is not a prerequisite for MedFit, so it’s a really great option for people in our community who want to improve their fitness,” Burmeister explained.

In preparation for some surgeries, providers may recommend that patients complete a “rehabilitation” session with a physical therapist.

“During this treatment session, patients will be educated through exercises to improve their current strength, and they will be advised about postoperative limitations,” Burmeister said. “They will also gain a greater understanding of what movement looks like after surgery.”

Treatment teams can provide specific activities that patients must do to increase range of motion and build strength for optimal results after surgery, Vander Loeb said.

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

Specific joint replacement surgery activity

How a patient exercises before and after surgery can also depend on the joint being replaced. For your knees and hips, it’s best to stay as active as possible. Pre-surgery knee exercises can maximize flexion and help build muscle memory, helping the body to better perform the necessary post-operative exercises.

Likewise, strengthening the hips is very important before a hip or knee replacement as the hips help keep you stable when walking, Vander Loeb said. In addition, maintaining cardiovascular health plays a huge role in recovery as well.

For the shoulders, it is important to maintain a good range of motion before surgery with simple exercises. This can include moving your arm up a wall or lying on your back while holding a broomstick or wand with both hands and raising the arms above your head, Vander Loeb said.

Once the surgery is complete, Burmeister said, each patient will receive guidance from their surgeon about recovery times and activity expectations, but in general, staying mobile is very important.

“The general rule is to do short, repetitive movements, walk or exercise rather than one long session,” she noted. “This can help prevent stiffness and pain after surgery, and it can also help prevent blood clots.”

Recovery times vary greatly depending on the type of surgery and an individual’s mobility. In addition to exercise, it is also important that patients drink adequate amounts of water and follow a balanced diet to aid wound healing.

After surgery, physical therapists will prepare a post-operative exercise program to strengthen and extend the joint’s range of motion. Immediately after surgery, Vander Loeb noted, teams tend to focus on recovery.

“You don’t want to overdo it,” she said. “We generally say get up once an hour, go to the bathroom, or drink water. Especially in the first two weeks, we tell our patients to focus on putting on ice and on lifting weights.”

The new ThedaCare Medical Center for Orthopedics, Spine and Pain provides a shared space for providers, allowing physiotherapists to easily consult with physicians. The facility also has a large rehabilitation space with exercise equipment, running tracks, a basketball court, and lawn areas to help patients get back to the activities they love.

“ThedaCare has great physical and occupational therapists to help you on this journey,” Burmeister said. “Treatment can be completed in an outpatient, inpatient or home care setting. Your surgical team will help you decide which option you may qualify for to suit 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 Northeastern and Central Wisconsin. The organization provides care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs nearly 7,000 healthcare 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 and best lives. ThedaCare also works with local communities to understand needs, find solutions together, and encourage health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, giving professionals the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on patient care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a Level II Trauma Center, comprehensive cancer treatment, and heart and stroke programs, as well as primary care.

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