As you get older, you may get arthritis in your knees that damages the structures and may necessitate surgery. Or, you may be very active in sports and have injured ligaments or cartilage that may require surgery. Although it’s still not a picnic, knee surgery is not the harrowing ordeal it used to be. Depending on the type of knee surgery you require, recovery times are much faster now and get you up on your feet and moving again with minimal pain.
If you have to undergo knee surgery, there are some things you should know. First, let me explain to you about the 3 main types of knee surgery.
- Arthroscopy – done mainly to diagnose knee problems or to repair ligaments or remove fractured cartilage or bone. Incisions, sometimes several, are made around the knee, to create “portals” where an instrument called an arthroscope can be inserted to look into the inner knee. This is an outpatient procedure so you will be up and moving afterwards, however, complete recovery time is usually 6 to 8 weeks. You may need a cane or crutches to assist in walking. Limited activity, icing, and elevation of the leg is necessary in the post-op recovery period.
- Arthroplasty – done to reconstruct the knee from internal damage to the knee structures, usually cartilage. Metal or plastic components are used to replace the worn cartilage. This is an inpatient hospital procedure and you will be there about a week. You will have physical therapy every day to stand/place weight on the knee; learn how to walk with crutches, before going home. About 3 weeks is needed to completely place weight on the artificial joint. This procedure usually also requires the patient to have a course of physical therapy to re-train the motion of the knee with its new artificial components.
- Knee Replacement – this is the most extensive and time-intensive type of knee surgery as far as recovery and limitation of activity is concerned. Usually, the entire knee, or a large part of it, is replaced by artificial components. It may take as long as a year to completely recover full movement of the knee/leg. Ongoing physical therapy is done during that time as well. You will need assistance from family or friends to do certain things, as your activity level will be greatly decreased for a while.
Healing Your Knee – What You Can Do
You should always follow your doctor’s advice regarding your postoperative activity, treatment and care of your knee post surgery. However, there are some important things that you can do for yourself to help the healing of your knee by rebuilding and strengthen existing muscles, cartilage and ligaments for support.
- Protein – a diet rich in protein, enough to support your weight at 0.5 grams per pound of body weight, should be eaten every day. Beef, pork, fish, chicken, legumes are rich sources of protein and B vitamins for energy and red blood cell regeneration. Protein rebuilds muscles and also helps make collagen, the material that your connective tissues, i.e., ligaments and cartilage are made from.
- Vitamin C – in addition to protein, Vitamin C also helps create collagen, which “knits” ligaments and cartilage back together to strengthen them especially after they’ve been over-stretched or torn, repaired, or replaced from surgery.
- Fish/Krill Oil – provides crucial Omega 3’s, which decrease inflammation (and pain!) and provide natural lubrication within the joint. Research has shown that arthritis sufferers move more easily and without pain after taking these oils.
- Collagen supplements – recent research by Harvard Medical College has shown that 100% pure collagen supplements bolster your own collagen production and help heal ligaments and cartilage faster. These come in capsules, but the powder form that can be mixed into water or juice, have been shown to work faster.
- Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM – this combination of collagen building agents also decreases inflammation and promotes healing of the joint tissues.
- Quit Smoking – smoking increases the inflammation throughout your body that increases pain and stiffness. Smoking also delays healing and recovery time.
- Watch Your Weight – a large number of knee surgery/procedures result from too much body weight placed on the knee joints, the largest weight bearing joint in your body. If you are overweight, likely your doctor has already told you to take off some weight before you have your procedure, if possible. Afterwards, if you still have some weight to lose, it will help your knee significantly if you can get some more weight off. However, remember that your activity level will be decreased after surgery, so at least try to maintain your weight and not gain any more.
- Rest and elevate – don’t try to do too much too soon as you will damage the delicate reconstruction within the knee. Wait until your doctor tells you it’s okay to do certain things again. You will be given specific exercises to do during your recovery but rest and elevation (to alleviate swelling and pain) is important.
- Sleep – your body repairs itself during sleep, so be sure to get adequate sleep at least 6-8 uninterrupted hours per night after your procedure.
Your doctor will give you a more detailed set of do and don’t instructions with your procedure, and you should follow those to the letter so your knee surgery recovery will be as speedy as possible. Becoming proactive towards your procedure with proper nutrition and lifestyle adjustments will ensure that you heal properly for the best outcome possible!