The recovery outlook of a knee surgery involves pain, swelling and physical therapy for an extended period of time. Following knee surgery, patients typically show signs and symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and increased edema around or below the surgical site. Physical therapy can reduce these symptoms within a few months of surgery, however, the symptoms can be frustrating to experience. So, while the knee may be slightly less painful and swollen, the mild to moderate pain and swelling that persists will last much longer. Alternative methods like cryotherapy and compression therapy can help speed up recovery after knee surgery.
Cryotherapy for Knee Surgery Recovery
Cryotherapy (also called “cold therapy”) is the application of cold around the injured knee tissue. Cold therapy brings many benefits when it comes to knee surgery, including reducing inflammation, pain in the knee, and improved range of motion.
Here is some insight from Marie O’Connor on how cryotherapy can help with knee surgery recovery:
Marie O’Connor, Nordic Edge
Reducing Inflammation: On the surface, cryotherapy or “cold therapy” works by speeding up the healing process. When the extremely cold temperatures touch the skin, it causes constriction of blood vessels and reduces blood flow to the area, therefore causing the pain and swelling/inflammation to decrease. The great thing about cryotherapy is that it can decrease inflammation while simultaneously stressing your body enough to release certain chemicals and hormones. Low doses of physical stress from a cold plunge can elicit an adaptive response and strengthen your immune system by increasing white blood cells and immune cells.
Reduce Knee Pain: By lowering the inflammation, pain reduction is a side-effect. Cryotherapy triggers an anti-inflammatory norepinephrine release that reduces short-term pain from injuries. The cold results in a numbing effect which also lowers their pain levels.
Improve Range of Motion: Because the swelling and pain have subsided, It also makes physical therapy more tolerable. The lowering of inflammation allows the client to move the knee more freely; therefore maximizing their exercise sessions to get the best results. In addition, after cryotherapy and vaso-constriction, the blood vessels open up causing rich-oxygenated molecules to return to the knee to aid in the healing process.
For more information, please see Nordic Edge’s recent blog on compression therapy and cryotherapy for knee surgery recovery.
Compression Therapy for Knee Surgery Recovery
Compression therapy helps increase blood flow activity by softly applying pressure, wearing specifically designed stockings. The compression helps prevents blood from pooling in leg veins, improving overall circulation and diminishing swelling.
Here is some insight from Stephanie Idjadi and Cat Nadeau on how compression therapy can help with knee surgeries:
Stephanie Idjadi, DPT, Reddy Care Physical & Occupational Therapy
Total Knee Replacements constitute one of the most common surgeries performed by orthopedic surgeons. Although total knee replacements have become quite common, this does not lessen the recovery and the impact of the surgery on the patient. The application of active compression is an important modality that can be used to help with the recovery from a total knee replacement.
The Normatec is an active compression system designed to improve blood flow and remove excess fluids from an affected limb. After a total knee replacement, healing tissues require oxygen and nutrients in order to repair themselves. Improving circulation helps promote healing by bringing freshly oxygenated blood to the area and removing cellular waste.
The most valuable element of the Normatec is the pulsing massage pattern it uses. Compression stockings often used after a total knee replacement use static compression, which just squeezes the fluid out of the limb. The Normatec’s pulsing action is more effective because it mimics the muscle pumps of the leg. This greatly enhances the movement of fluid from the limbs after surgery.
Research has shown NormaTec compression to lessen pain sensitivity, increase range of motion, clear metabolites passively, decrease muscle fatigue after exercise, and improve endothelial function and blood flow in the legs. All of these factors reduce inflammation and decrease soreness in the knee. In a randomized control trial, multilayer compression therapy (the same compression gradient that NormaTec employs) caused immediate significant reductions in post-operative edema for total knee replacements, even being more effective than ice packs in reducing swelling immediately post-operatively.
Morgan Mowers, PT, DPT, Finish Line Physical Therapy
Reduce Swelling: After surgery, the amount of swelling in the leg may take a long time to dissipate because the veins (blood vessels which return deoxygenated blood back to the heart) can only push a circulate at a certain rate. With the surgery being on the lower extremities, gravity can decrease this circulation further by pooling the inflammation further down the leg. Compression enhances recirculation by increasing the pressure, giving veins an extra boost up towards the heart.
While ordinary compression sleeves do a great job of this, intermittent compression (such as Normatec) is even better because it replicates the way that the body’s venous system naturally returns blood to the heart – starting distally and gradually squeezing upwards with a prolonged hold and a gradual decrease in pressure. By cycling through, the muscles are replenished with oxygenated blood with less inflammatory byproducts. This is better than NSAIDs because it is not preventing your body from creating important inflammatory biomarkers but rather clearing the chemicals faster once they have done their job.
Try Cryotherapy & Compression Therapy for Yourself
Both cryotherapy and compression therapy are great methods to reduce swelling after knee surgery and should be explored in order to allow for a fast recovery. We recommend looking into trying these services.
I am fellowship trained in joint replacement surgery, metabolic bone disorders, sports medicine and trauma. I specialize in total hip and knee replacements, and I have personally written most of the content on this page.
You can see my full CV at my profile page.