Stimulating the Thigh Muscles after Knee Replacement

Total knee replacement (TKR) surgery can do wonders for an arthritic or damaged knee. But TKR is hard on the muscles around the knee. Surgery and the down time after surgery often cause these muscles to lose strength. Weakness is especially bad in the thigh muscles. Much of rehab after TKR involves strengthening the weak muscles around the knee.

Electric muscle stimulation (EMS) can help muscles gain strength. It seems odd that simply passing an electrical current through a muscle can build it up, but it's true. EMS is sometimes used to regain strength after spine injuries. EMS has also been shown to help athletes build muscle. These authors tested using EMS in the thigh muscles after TKR.

Fifteen patients were given EMS treatments after TKR. They were hooked up to EMS for four hours a day over six weeks. They also had the usual physical therapy. A second group of 15 patients received just the usual therapy. Both groups were checked for walking speed, walking effort, and knee function before surgery. The same tests were repeated one, six, and 12 weeks after surgery.

Recovery was similar by most measurements. However, the EMS group could walk much faster at six and 12 weeks. The authors say this could be because the thigh muscle recovered more quickly. The authors conclude that EMS, along with physical therapy, can help in the recovery after TKR.


Kyriakos Avramidis, MD, RRCS, et al. Effectiveness of Electric Stimulation of the Vastus Medialis Muscle in the Rehabilitation of Patients after Total Knee Arthroplasty. In Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. December 2003. Vol. 84. No. 12. Pp. 1850-1853.


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