Swelling, also called edema, is one of the most common symptoms experienced after a knee surgery. While it can contribute to discomfort and pain, swelling can also lead to more serious issues if left unchecked. Swelling can limit mobility of the knee and cause the surrounding muscles to be ineffective. Thus, managing knee swelling is crucial to ensuring a successful knee surgery recovery.
Icing and Compression
Icing the knee, also known as cold therapy or cryotherapy, can reduce swelling for the first few days during knee surgery recovery. This is typically done 10 to 20 minutes at a time, three to four times per day.
Your doctor might prescribe a cooling device that combines compression with cold application. However, you can also make your own ice pack using ice cubes at home. In addition to reducing swelling, ice also helps decrease pain after knee surgery. A study published in 2015 by Annals of Medicine & Surgery found that patients who used cold therapy after knee replacement surgery took less pain medication than patients who did not use cold.
Compression stockings or bandages may also be prescribed by your doctor to help limit swelling. Wrap a bandage from below the knee to above, overlapping approximately half the width with each layer. The bandage should be snug, but you should be able to fit a couple of fingertips between it and your skin. If your leg starts to go numb or tingle, loosen the bandage.
Perform Therapeutic Exercise
In addition to cold therapy and compression, initiating knee movement and activating the surrounding muscles also help to control swelling during knee surgery recovery. Exercise activities should only be performed as instructed by your surgeon or physical therapist to protect your repaired knee. Quad sets contract the large muscles in the front of your thigh to help increase circulation and reduce swelling.
HOW TO DO IT: Sit with your legs straight out in front of you or lie on your back. Place a small folded towel under your injured knee. Bend the opposite knee and place your foot on the floor. Tighten the muscles in your thigh by pressing the back of your knee into the towel. Hold for five to 10 seconds; then relax. Repeat 10 times.
Also effective are heel slides, which help you bend and straighten your leg.
HOW TO DO IT: Loop a small towel under your lower thigh on the injured leg. Bend your knee slowly while sliding your heel along the floor. Use your arms to assist by pulling on the ends of the towel. Stop when your heel is close to your buttocks and hold for five to 10 seconds; then slowly straighten back out. Repeat this movement 10 times.
Warnings and Precautions
While swelling after knee surgery is common, it can also be a sign of a complication such as a blood clot or infection. Report any sudden increase in swelling to your doctor, especially if accompanied by worsening pain, increasing tenderness, redness, fever, pus or thick drainage from your incision.