Recovering from knee surgery can be a long journey, but the end result (for most people) is better mobility, less pain, and a higher quality of life.
With more than 700,000 knee replacements performed each year in the U.S. alone, knee surgery is more common than you think. So if you’re headed for surgery or in recovery, here’s what you need to know about the road ahead.
Different Types of Knee Surgery
Meniscus repair is a common knee surgery used to restore knee movement and alleviate pain. There are two menisci in each knee: one at the front and one at the back. This C-shaped cartilage acts as a cushion between your shin and thigh bones.
Menisci can easily become torn or damaged when playing sports, but any activity or accident that twists the knee can lead to this type of injury.
There are three main types of meniscus surgeries:
- Meniscus Repair: Restores knee movement when the meniscus is torn or damaged.
- Meniscectomy: A portion of the cartilage is removed from the knee.
- Meniscus Transplant: A torn or damaged meniscus can be replaced with a donated one.
The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is one of the main ligaments in your knee, and it can easily become damaged or torn when playing sports or exercising.
The ACL keeps the knee stabilized, so if it becomes damaged or torn, it can cause the knee to give out.
ACL repair will replace the ligament to restore stability.
Injuries and accidents can move the kneecap out of place, causing pain each time you bend or move your knee.
A lateral release procedure will loosen the ligaments moving the kneecap out of position.
Patellar Tendon Repair
The patellar tendon is the most commonly repaired tendon in the knee. Because it crosses the knee joint, the surgery is an open procedure that leaves a scar across the knee. However, repairing or restoring this tendon can help you regain strength and reduce pain in the joint.
Arthritis or injury can lead to a knee replacement. There are two main types of knee replacement surgeries:
- Partial: Known as a unicompartmental knee replacement, this procedure resurfaces part of the knee joint for better mobility.
- Total: Damaged and diseased areas of the knee joint are removed and replaced with artificial components.
If only part of the knee is damaged, an osteotomy may be recommended. With this procedure, a piece of the bone from the tibia or femur is either removed or added to redistribute the weight and alleviate pain.
Healthy cartilage is crucial to your joint health, but it cannot heal on its own when it becomes damaged. Cartilage repair surgery removes the damaged or rough cartilage, and the remaining surface is smoothed to help alleviate discomfort.
Cartilage repair can help improve joint movement while reducing friction.
Recovery Time for Knee Surgery
The recovery time for knee surgery will depend largely on the surgery itself. Some procedures take longer to heal from than others.
Meniscus Repair Recovery
It can take quite a bit of time to recover from meniscus repair. Rehabilitation will be part of the recovery process, but rest is crucial.
Here's how long it can take to reach important milestones in your recovery:
- You should be able to put weight on the knee right away (with a brace in some cases).
- 1-6 weeks to walk without crutches
- 1-6 weeks to drive
- 1-2 weeks to regain your full range of motion
- 4 weeks to 6 months to return to sports or heavy work
ACL Repair Recovery
Full recovery from ACL repair surgery can take nearly a year, depending on the circumstances of the injury and surgical complications.
Here’s a look at the recovery process:
- 0-2 weeks after surgery: You will be on crutches and won’t be allowed to put any weight on your knee. During this period, the main focus is keeping inflammation under control.
- 2-4 weeks after surgery: You may still be using crutches, but you may be able to put some weight on your knee. You will likely be fitted for a knee brace and start attending physical therapy.
- 2-9 months after surgery: Physical therapy will help you regain strength and stability. You may be able to start playing sports or return to regular work duties 6-9 months after the procedure.
Lateral Release Recovery
Fortunately, the lateral release procedure is minimally invasive. Small incisions are made around the knee. Partial recovery takes about three months. Full recovery will take about a year.
Patellar Tendon Repair Recovery
After patellar tendon repair surgery, you can expect to wear a knee brace for 6 weeks. This brace will keep your leg straight and knee immobilized to allow it to heal correctly. You won’t be able to bend your knee for about 12 weeks. It will take at least 6 months to return to regular sports, depending on how much strength is lost in the leg.
Knee Replacement Recovery
Immediately after surgery, you will likely need to sit in the recovery room for a few hours. Some people stay overnight, but many patients will go home the same day.
By week 3, you should be able to stand or walk for 10 minutes. You may be able to return to a desk job after 4-6 weeks. Physical therapy will last about 12 weeks.
It can take three months to return to most activities and 6+ months before you fully recover.
Knee Osteotomy and Cartilage Repair Recovery
For the first several weeks after surgery, you will walk on crutches and avoid putting weight on your knee. Then, about 8-12 weeks after the procedure, you can start walking unaided.
Like many other types of knee surgery, a full recovery can take 6-12 months.
Natural Remedies to Promote Recovery and Reduce Pain
Rest and time are the best healers, but you can take steps to promote recovery and alleviate discomfort after knee surgery.
Natural Pain Cream
Topical pain creams with natural ingredients can help provide localized relief while speeding up the healing process. Many natural ingredients can help with your recovery, including:
- CBD: Research shows that CBD can affect pain perception and bring some relief.
- DMSO: Studies have found that DMSO can provide quick and effective pain relief, while also reducing inflammation naturally. It can also help speed up recovery after an injury.
- Magnesium: Low magnesium levels have been associated with knee pain. Supplementing this mineral may help alleviate discomfort during your recovery.
- Essential oils: Several essential oils can help with pain, inflammation, and discomfort, including lavender, frankincense, chamomile, ginger, geranium, marjoram, and more.
Rest and Light Exercise
Rest and movement will also help with your recovery and alleviate your discomfort. The body needs time to heal, and rest will give it that time and space to rebuild.
Your doctor may also recommend light exercise or movement to help get the blood flowing and prevent mobility loss. Make sure that you’re following these recommendations during your recovery.
Knee surgery can bring you relief, improve your quality of life and restore your mobility. Recovery can be a long road, but the remedies above can help support the healing process.
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