Managing Postoperative Pain, Swelling, and Bruising

Written by Samuel Greengard and Tricia Kinman | Published on March 19, 2015
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on March 19, 2015

Get tips to deal with the after effects of surgery.

Overview

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.

Keep reading to get tips on dealing with these common side effects of surgery.

Immediately After the Operation

According to Massachusetts General, surgeons may put novocaine in the knee to help with pain for the first few hours. You might receive pain medication either orally or through an intravenous (IV) tube after this wears off. These medications may include a strong opioid such as morphine, fentanyl, and oxycodone. There is little chance that you will become addicted to these drugs, because they are used only for a short period of time.

Medications to Manage Pain

Most people will take oral pain medication for up to several weeks. These include prescription-strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Your doctor might prescribe stronger pain relievers such as tramadol and oxycodone if severe pain persists.

You may need over-the-counter medication to help reduce temporary pain and inflammation later on. These medications may include acetaminophen and NSAIDs. Your physical therapist may provide massages and prescribe exercises to help reduce inflammation. The pain will likely diminish over a period of several weeks.

Dealing with Bruising

Bruising around your knee may last one to two weeks following surgery. Bruising is typically a purplish discoloration that indicates blood in the area. It 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.

Managing Swelling

Swelling is also a normal part of the healing process. It’s likely that you’ll experience some swelling for two to three weeks following surgery. You can reduce swelling by doing your post-operative exercises and by elevating your leg on a pillow in bed for one to two hours each afternoon.

According to the Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, swelling can last for three to six months after surgery, so it’s a good idea to invest in an ice pack. Ice packs are very effective for reducing swelling and inflammation in your knee joint and surrounding tissue. It’s generally recommended that you use an ice pack three to four times a day for about 20 minutes. Get a recommendation from your physical therapist or doctor if you see no improvement, or if you think additional icing might help. You may also benefit from applying heat to your knee after several weeks.

Other Treatments

You’ll most 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.

Topical creams and patches applied to the knee can also help reduce pain and make it easier for you to sleep at night. These usually include active ingredients like capsaicin (also found in chili peppers), menthol, or salicylates. These ingredients are well known to ease pain when they’re applied on the skin.

Physical Therapy

Your physical therapist may use a TENS unit 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 the skin and may reduce nerve pain. According a recent study published in the journal Pain, TENS is not effective for everyone.

Your physical therapist may also provide massages or show you how you can stimulate the muscles and tissue surrounding your knee.

Follow Your Exercises

Make sure you 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.

While exercising can help post-operative pain, it is important to avoid certain positions that can cause damage. According to Cleveland Clinic, you should not squat, jump, twist, or kneel after surgery.

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.

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