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Upright bike vs Recumbent bike

What’s the difference between the upright bike and recumbent bike? Which bike is better for my knees? I have arthritis in my hip, so which bike is better to do at the gym? Which one is better for me after I have knee replacement surgery? These are some of the many questions physical therapists and physical therapy aides hear throughout the day. Each answer is different, depending on the patient’s ability and needs.

The upright bike, which is found at many physical therapy offices and gyms, sounds just like it is. It allows for one to sit up taller and relying on their core strength to keep them upright and balanced with no back support. The benefits is that it gives you a better workout then a recumbent bike because you’re using your core, biceps and triceps to keep you balanced.

The recumbent bike is a smaller cardio machine with a back rest and handle bars at each side. What is good about this bike is that you don’t have to worry about lifting your legs over the machine to get on and off, specifically for those who struggle with balance. You have room between the seat and the handle bars to step in, sit down and then put your feet in the pedals. The downside is that it only works your lower body (quads, calves, hamstrings) and you’re burning less calories.

The benefit to both of these bikes is if you have back, hip or knee pain, a stationary bike will put less stress on your joints then an treadmill.

If you have just had knee replacement or hip replacement surgery and just started physical therapy, your therapist will evaluate you on what you will start with at the beginning of each of your appointment. It may be heat to your knee or hip or starting off on one of the bikes for 5-10 minutes. The decision on which bike you may start on depends on a few key points:

1: how far you are out post-op

2: your fitness level


3: restriction level from your physician, if any.

Either bike choice might also depend on if your therapist notices your balance is off. If you can’t fully support your weight without the support of a walker, cane or crutches, then you may start on the recumbent bike, since it’s a lower machine with a back support.

However, if you’re coming in for physical therapy with arthritis in your knee(s) or hip(s), then your therapist will evaluate your fitness level and any restriction levels from your doctor.

Overall, either bike is better then doing nothing as long as you’re getting your body moving.

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