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How do I Manage Swelling After Knee Surgery?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 17, 2024
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It is important to manage swelling after knee surgery, because it can lead to pain and can make it more difficult to resume everyday activity. The best ways to manage swelling are rest, elevation of the leg, and the regular application of ice. Of course, any advice or instructions from a medical professional regarding the healing process and pain management should always be followed to prevent causing damage to the knee after surgery. Medication will generally also be prescribed to help reduce pain and swelling.

While it is important to get up on your feet and start moving around as soon as possible after knee surgery, this should only be done in very short periods of activity. For instance, getting up and walking slowly around the house for five or ten minutes per hour, then resting for the rest of the time, is usually recommended. This allows the knee to begin moving and getting stronger as the muscles build back up, which will help to speed up the healing process and make eventual physical therapy easier, but it will not cause too much swelling. Staying on the feet for too long can make swelling much worse.

When you are resting, this is the time to elevate and ice the knee. It is best to place the knee above the hips to reduce swelling; this can typically be easily achieved by adding some pillows under the leg, whether you are sitting in a reclining chair or laying in bed. Ice should be applied at regular intervals: place it on the leg for about 10 to 15 minutes, then removed for the same amount of time, then put back on. The area will typically also be wrapped with a compression bandage to help control swelling after knee surgery.

Medication can be used to alleviate swelling and pain, but be sure to only use what was prescribed for you and to follow the directions carefully. It may take weeks before the swelling is completely gone and before more normal activity can be resumed. Medical professionals generally prescribe a certain amount of physical therapy, which can also help to promote healing in the knee. If the knee appears especially swollen or very warm to the touch after surgery, or red streaks can be seen, it is necessary to go back for medical treatment because the joint could be infected.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1002725 — On Feb 02, 2020

Everyone is very different.

I am convinced your muscular condition prior to surgery greatly impacts swelling and recovery. I elected to go immediately to outpatient physical therapy, going 3x week. I never required a cane or a walker, swelling was minimal, I did elevate and ice several times a day. I have just hit 8 weeks after surgery and am doing great, good range of motion, still a very small amount of swelling. PT is over, however I continue at home.

I have found if I put an elastic bandage wrap around my knee before going to bed, it keeps me from twisting the knee and the resulting pain when I sleep. Hopefully as everything gets stronger this will not be necessary.

I am scheduled to do surgery on my other knee in 6 weeks.

I sincerely feel staying active is a big plus.

I might add, I am a 72 y.o. female.

Good luck to all.

By anon942349 — On Mar 27, 2014

I am over one year post surgery. My knee still feels swollen at times (first thing in the morning / after a long day of activity). I have started using Glucosamine Chondroitin pills and they have actually helped quite a bit. Hope this helps!

By SarahSon — On Aug 09, 2012

I had a lot of swelling and pain after knee surgery. I was doing everything the doctor told me to do, but had a long, painful recovery time.

I thought the swelling in my knee would never completely go away. Sometimes it was pretty frustrating because you didn't know for sure what to do.

If I stayed standing too long, my knee would swell up. If I didn't get up often enough, my knee would still swell. I was told to just give it time and to keep up with my physical therapy exercises.

Eventually the swelling went completely away, and my knee feels much better. I don't know why some people have a lot more trouble with swelling and pain than others do.

By Mykol — On Aug 09, 2012

I thinking keeping ice on your knee at regular intervals is just as important as keeping your knee elevated. When I had knee replacement surgery, this was one thing my doctor really stressed to me.

It sounds like such a simple thing, but takes dedication to stay on it. I managed to have a good recovery, and I think it was because I followed the instructions given to me. I had a little swelling for the first week or so, but not any more than I expected I would have.

By LisaLou — On Aug 08, 2012
I learned some lessons the hard way after I had arthroscopic knee surgery. I don't do very well with a lot of sitting around, and after my surgery, I was going stir crazy.

I felt pretty good, so I tried to get up and stay on my feet as much as possible. This was one of the worst things I could have done as far as the swelling in my knee.

If I ever have this done again, I will have to use a lot more discipline and make sure I don't do too much too soon. This slows down the recovery process which only makes it worse.

By julies — On Aug 07, 2012

Managing the swelling after knee surgery is really no different than how you would manage any other kind of swelling. My doctor told me that most people would experience swelling after knee replacement surgery.

I wasn't looking forward to having this surgery done, but I was tired of living in constant pain with my knees. The best thing I did to keep the swelling down after surgery was to keep my legs elevated.

This wasn't really very hard to do because I didn't feel much like getting up and walking around. After a few minutes of bearing any kind of weight on my knee, I was ready to sit back down in my recliner.

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