Swelling after surgery is a normal finding, especially after a knee procedure.  Many patients ask me if their swelling is normal, how long will it last, and is it dangerous?   These are all great questions.

Swollen-KneeFirst, let’s understand what swelling is and why it happens. Swelling can mean more than one thing. The development of fluid in a knee joint, in doctor-speak called an ‘effusion’. This is not the same as swelling in the tissues around your knee or in your leg.  Swelling occurs as a natural part of the inflammatory response to injury.  There may be very little after a simple procedure like a knee arthroscopy, or more swelling after a joint replacement.

After a knee scope, or arthroscopy, it is common to have swelling, or an effusion, in the joint for a few days, or sometimes, as long as a few weeks. Patients with arthritis tend to be swollen longer.

After a big knee surgery like a ligament repair or replacement, you may have some of both – fluid in the knee joint (effusion) and swelling in the leg.  This often lasts for several weeks.  Sometimes, I see people that are still swollen several months later (without any pain) and I believe this can be normal – everyone is different.

Is knee swelling dangerous after surgery?

It is normal to have some swelling after surgery.  Don’t be alarmed.  There can be bruising as well and discoloration of the skin.  This will resolve with time and does not need to be alarming.  If you are worried, please come in and see me in the office to check.

How to reduce swelling after surgery
Compression stockings
There are several simple things you can do. First, wear a pair of ‘TED’ hose, or compression stockings. This will help to literally ‘squeeze’ the fluid out of your legs and feet. You can wear these almost 24 hours a day.

Keep your leg up and elevated. The higher the better. This will help to drain fluid out of your leg.

PolarCare Ice MachineIce your knee. This can be done with ice packs, or with a ice machine – a special pad and a pump that circulates cold water through the pad like the one shown here. The cold helps to reduce inflammation which will decrease the swelling and effusion.

Ibuprofen / Naproxen or other anti-inflammatory medicine
These medicines work to stop inflammation and thereby reduce the swelling after surgery. I often suggest 600-800mg of ibuprofen 3 times a day, or 440mg of naproxen (Aleve) twice a day.  Be sure to check to see if this is something you are allowed to take after surgery.  Patients on strong blood thinners should not take any anti-inflammatories.

To learn more about swelling after surgery, please see me in my La Mesa, California office.