I’m not going to lie, but it’s going to hurt pretty badly after major knee surgery, or any surgery for that matter. This article is part 4 of 6 in a series that covers resources and therapies for pain after major knee surgery. It is also applicable for anyone who is bed bound from acute or chronic pain, or who just underwent an operation. (You can find the full series at the end of the post.)
I will start with painkillers and medications – they should not be viewed as an evil, but as essential tools there to help manage post surgery pain. I will then move on to tips on how to manage pain without medication, and natural pain relief resources, as these can be equally as helpful too.
❗️ Disclaimer: Knee injuries and surgeries, or any major surgery for that matter, vary widely from person to person. Your age, lifestyle, weight, circumstances, other chronic health conditions, medications, comorbidities, allergies and other issues can impact your recovery timeline, as well as the tools and methods required. They should be adapted for YOU.
This article and the resources provided below are based on MY own personal experiences with spontaneous bilateral patellar tendon ruptures, as a person with many chronic illnesses. It also includes extensive options to cover various knee surgeries – not everything is meant for your specific type of knee injury or knee surgery. They are meant for educational purposes and not to be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own medical provider before trying anything out.
This post also contains affiliate links. It will cost you nothing to click on them. I will get a small referral fee from purchases you make, which helps with the maintenance of this blog (approx. $100/month). Thank you!
Resources with a star ⭐ next to them are ones I’ve personally tried and would recommend!
Table of Contents
1. Keep Your Medications & Painkillers Within Reach (Important!)
If you live with chronic illness, you know how important it is to have your medications on standby. It’s crucial to be extra organised now. You don’t want to need your emergency medications in the middle of the night, but can’t get to them.
I also had to take antibiotics four times a day for months, due to skin wounds that wouldn’t heal from my knee surgery. That can be troublesome on top of keeping track of my regular medications, which I take three times a day. So keep them all close by.
These are some medications I keep together in a box on my bed: Painkillers, antihistamines, prednisone, dhamotil/lomotil, benzodiazepines, charcoal tablets, my oral sleep spray, Citravescent and more.
Antihistamines were essential especially during the first few weeks of recovery. Ironically, it wasn’t the wounds from the knee surgery that irritated my skin, but the leg braces. They were uncomfortable, and affected my quality of sleep.“If you live with #chronicillness, you know how important it is to have your #medications on standby..You don’t want to need your #emergency medications in the middle of the night, but can’t get to them.” #disabled #DisabilityTwitter Click To Tweet
Ensure That Your Caregivers Know Where Your Medications are & What You Need Exactly
You may be familiar with your medications and can prattle their tongue-twister names off with ease. But others may not, and most likely don’t know where you used to keep them, either. I have so many medications that they need to be kept in several pouches and bags, and occupy an entire cupboard.
You’re going to need to rely on others to get your sodium valproate, hydroxychloroquine, hydroxyzine… “Is this the same as hydroxy…chloro…cuine?”, vortioxetine and more. They are going to have a hard time; my mum took months to figure them out. Even pharmacists sometimes stumble over the names of my medications. Or they use the brand names which are often easier to pronounce.
So ensure that your caregivers are familiar with your medications, what you need and when. (I wanted to buy the Hero Automatic Pill Dispenser but alas, they don’t work in Singapore, only the U.S. 🙁 )
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2. Heat Therapy (Improve Blood Circulation)
Immobile legs make for cold legs with poor blood circulation. You can try using a heat blanket or hot water bottle for some heat therapy. I’ve never tried a heat blanket as it gets too warm in Singapore, but they’re soft, flexible and easy to wrap around. I have a YuYu hot water bottle, which is great for covering larger surface areas as it’s long.
When I could again, a nice hot shower helped both to refresh my mind and body. The coldness of my limbs also caused some dizziness when I moved around, and those hot showers helped with that.
3. Cold Therapy (Reduce Swelling & Inflammation)
Right after a major knee surgery, your knees and/or legs are going to be swollen and inflammed. You can wrap a cloth around a reusable cold gel pack and place them near the injury site to help tame the swelling and provide some pain relief.
Alternatively, there are compression gel wraps you can buy that are designed to cover the knees. Note that these are only to be used if your wounds are not directly at the knee itself. Check with your doctor if you’re unsure.
I used regular cold gel packs wrapped in towels, though they do get damp quickly and aren’t as flexible, so it was a little hard to keep them in place.
4. Keep Your Skin Moisturised (Dead Skin Cells Clog Up & Can Itch)
Your skin is going to dry up, especially if you’ve been in bandages for some time. Humans lose 200,000,000 skin cells every hour. Without a proper shower, those dead skin cells are merrily hanging out on the surface of your body. This can make your skin look unsightly and shrivelled up. I was surprised at how bad my skin quality was, of all the things. You may itch quite a bit as a result of that, and also from the recovery process in itself.
The remnant surgical abrasions from the knee surgery will also look bloody and disgusting. But not to worry; once you’re up and taking showers again, your skin will look better soon after.
5. Cushions for Sitting Comfortably After Knee Surgery
5.1 Gel Cushions
Gel cushions are essential when you’re out and about, as most wheelchair seats are thin, hard and uncomfortable. If you think sitting in a wheelchair and having someone push you around sounds luxurious and fun – I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s anything but.
You can also develop bedsores or haemorrhoids when you need to sit all day long. It’s important to prevent rather than treat these ailments, as they can be a literal pain in the ass.
6.2 Doughnut Cushions
Doughnut cushions are like doughnuts – they have a hole in the middle. The hole is meant to relieve pressure against your anus when you’re in a sitting position. If you’ve already developed piles, these may help you to sit a little more comfortably.
6. Massages (Excellent Therapies for Pain Relief & Blood Circulation)
Your body is going to ache with all that sitting and lying down. I think I’ve formed muscles in places that I don’t usually work out, such as my lower back and bum!
Massages, at least for me, are relaxing therapies for pain in general. They help with blood circulation as well, which in turn aids healing. Massages also helps to relieve muscle tension, so that you’re then able to stretch out a little more, or do your physiotherapy exercises with less pain.
15.1 DIY Self-Massage Kits
I bought a simple massage kit that came with various tools to target different areas of the body such as my thighs and neck. I have a large roller for my thighs, a Y-shaped tool for my neck, and a few other bibs and bobs.
7. Solutions if You Can’t Massage Yourself
The problem with the massage kits is that my hands and fingers have a ‘contact limit’, due to inflammation from Lupus and Sjögren’s. Everything I push or press adds up, and by the end of the day, they’re swollen with pain and I can’t bend my fingers anymore. Here are some things I use instead.“Due to #inflammation from #Lupus and #Sjogrens, everything I push or press adds up..by the end of the day, my hands are swollen with pain and I can’t bend my fingers anymore. Here are some things I use instead.” #ChronicPain #surgery Click To Tweet
7.1 Electric-Powered Shiatsu Back Massager & Massage Guns
I bought a cheap shiatsu back massager which I can lean against whilst resting in bed. It does help to knead out all the knots and aches in my back and neck a little.
You can also get a massage gun, where you can adjust the vibration levels to massage various sore body parts. I personally don’t like these, as they make me feel overstimulated, and tend to cause bruises, as I’m
also on blood thinning medication. But if you’re in need of something strong and targeted, they might work for you.
7.2 Electric-Powered Leg, Calf and/or Feet Massagers
I didn’t buy any of these whilst recovering, as I didn’t want to cause myself any further injury. But now that my knees are functioning better, I am considering getting one.
I still get pins and needles when I wake in the morning, or if my legs have been still for too long. It takes a good while of movement before they start to normalise. My knees are definitely not the same as before, and I think the huge scar tissues surrounding them affect blood flow. Perhaps one of these leg, calf or feet massagers might help to improve that on a more regular basis!
7.3 Home Massage Therapy (Ensure That the Therapists are Qualified)
After a few months when I could move my knees again without them hurting so much, I found a home massage therapy service, Urban Company. The prices were decent, and the masseuses had years of experience working in renown massage companies previously.
The first massage therapy I had post knee surgery was so therapeutic, having spent months confined in bed. I could feel all the tight knots in my body relaxing, and had a good night’s sleep after. Of course, you’ll need to avoid massaging the knee area for now. But a good massage from a trained therapist helps both mentally and physically.
7.4 Guasha Tools for the Face, Head & Neck (Lightweight Pain Management Tools)
I also get inflammation in the blood vessels in my forehead, skull, neck, shoulders, face and jaws. Something I’ve found to be helpful are guasha tools. They’re light, so they don’t hurt my hands. They come in various materials such as rose quartz, jade, metal and wood. The benefits of crystals is that they’re cool to the touch, so that can be soothing as well. I personally prefer the rose quartz material.
They also come in various shapes and edges, so choose one that can best fit and reach the curves of your face, jawlines and wherever else you need. Be careful not to scrape too hard, especially if you’re on blood thinners like me. My favourite shape is the one with three curves on one edge, as I find that I can reach most spots comfortably.
You can do a search on YouTube for examples on how to best use each guasha shape. I don’t use them in any specific method, but just whatever way feels relaxing. Over all, I’ve found that they do help to relieve some pain through muscle relaxation.
8. Kinesiology Tape (for Pain Relief)
Lying in bed all day doesn’t only cause aches, but also weakens all your muscles. That in turn causes more pain when you try to use them again. Whilst I don’t use kinesiology tape as I find it a hassle to tape myself, I know that it helps to relieve the pain of many chronically ill people, especially those who are hypermobile.
Here are also some great videos on how to use them, courtesy of Thrive Tape. Their kinesiology tape comes with far infrared as well, for potentially more pain relief (unaffiliated):
You can also apply and use kinesiology tape for your wrist, finger, arm, legs, ankles, feet, back, neck, shoulder and other sorts of pain. All their ‘How to Use’ kinesiology tape videos can be found on their page here.
Conclusion to Resources & Therapies for Pain After Major Knee Surgery
In conclusion, there are many resources and therapies for pain after surgery out there. It might take some experimentation to find out what works best to relieve and manage your pain, as our bodies are all unique. To get more tips, insights and resources on post-operative knee surgery care, check out the links below. Wishing you a speedy recovery!
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