Total Knee Replacement Surgery
Managing Postoperative Pain, Swelling, and Bruising
Get tips to deal with the after effects of surgery.
Managing Postoperative Side Effects and Pain
Postoperative pain, swelling, and bruising are a normal part of the recovery process following knee surgery. However, there are ways to manage the pain and ease your recovery.
Click “next” to get tips on dealing with these common side effects of surgery.
Immediately After the Operation
After surgery, you will receive pain medication through an intravenous (IV) tube. This may include a strong opioid such as morphine, fentanyl, and oxycodone. You do not have to worry about becoming addicted to these drugs. They are used only for a short period.
Medications to Manage Pain
After a couple of days you will transition to taking oral pain medication for up to several weeks. These include prescription-strength, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen. If severe pain persists, your doctor might prescribe stronger pain relievers such as tramadol and oxycodone.
Temporary or Intermittent Pain
Later on, you may require over-the-counter medication, including acetaminophen and NSAIDs, to help reduce temporary pain and inflammation. Your physical therapist may provide massages and prescribe exercises to alleviate ongoing inflammation. The pain will likely diminish over a period of several weeks.
Dealing with Bruising
Bruising around your knee may last 1-2 weeks following surgery. Bruising—typically a purplish discoloration that indicates excess blood in the area—can also cause additional tenderness. You can reduce inflammation and bruising by elevating your leg on a pillow in bed for an hour or two every afternoon or evening.
Swelling is also a normal part of the healing process. You will likely experience some swelling for 2-3 weeks following surgery. You can reduce swelling by doing your post-operative exercises and by elevating your leg on a pillow in bed for 1-2 hours each afternoon.
Applying Ice and Heat
Ice packs are highly effective for reducing swelling and inflammation in your knee joint and surrounding tissue. It is generally recommended that you use an ice pack 3-4 times a day for about 10 to 20 minutes. Get a recommendation from your physical therapist or doctor if you see no improvement, or if you think additional icing might help. After several weeks, you may also benefit from applying heat to your knee.
You will likely wear compression stockings while you are in the hospital and then while sleeping for up to six weeks afterward. These will reduce the risk of developing a blood clot and may help reduce achiness in the leg.
Your physical therapist may use a TENS unit or other methods to stimulate blood flow and reduce pain to your knee and the surrounding area. TENS stands for “transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation." These devices deliver electrical currents to your nerves, reducing nerve pain. Your physical therapist may also provide massages or show you how you can stimulate the muscles and tissue surrounding your knee.
Creams and Topical Ointments
Topical creams and patches applied to the knee may help reduce pain and make it easier for you to sleep at night. These products usually include active ingredients like capsaicin (also found in chili peppers), menthol, or salicylates. When absorbed through the skin, these ingredients are know to ease pain.
Follow Your Exercises
Make sure you use the CPM machine if prescribed and do all the exercises your physical therapist prescribes. These exercises help strengthen muscles, increase your range of motion, and increase blood flow around your knee. This promotes healing and helps drain fluid away from sore tissue.
Use Your Support Team
Discuss your level of pain and inflammation with your medical team and report any abrupt changes. The proper use of medication and therapy will help you reduce discomfort and speed your recovery.