Manage pain and prevent complications after knee replacement surgery with our guide on effective treatments and recovery tips.
Knee replacement surgery is a standard, routine procedure that occurs millions of times per year. Patients usually experience no negative complications and minimal pain post-operatively.
However, even the safest surgeries carry some risks, especially those as invasive as knee surgery. Whether you’re undergoing knee replacement surgery abroad or at home, knowing what can go wrong and how to fix it is critical.
This guide explores how to manage postoperative pain, the most common complications, and what you can do to boost your recovery.
- Pain Management After Knee Surgery
- Complications of Knee Replacement Surgery
- Reducing the Risk of Knee Replacement Complications
Pain Management After Knee Surgery
Some pain following a major operation is normal. During the first few hours, the general or regional anaesthesia masks most of the pain. But, as it slowly wears off, pain and swelling are inevitable. The severity of the pain will depend on your individual threshold, the size of the incision and internal trauma, and other factors (e.g., sleep quality).
Regardless, postoperative pain should never be debilitating. Indeed, early movement and physical therapy are key to long-term success, and pain should not impede this progress. Nevertheless, certain pain medications also carry risks, and balancing the pros and cons is the job of the patient and the doctor.
Common pain management options for knee replacement surgery include:
- Ibuprofen. An NSAID effective for reducing inflammation and providing pain relief; less potent than opioids.
- Naproxen. Similar to ibuprofen, useful for long-term management of pain and inflammation.
- Celecoxib. A COX-2 inhibitor offering pain relief with a reduced risk of stomach bleeding compared to other NSAIDs.
- Paracetamol. Used for mild to moderate pain, often in combination with opioids
These first-line options also help alleviate inflammation. Ibuprofen and naproxen are part of a group of drugs called NSAIDs – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. However, alongside their anti-inflammatory effects, they’re potent analgesics. They should form the bedrock of pain management.
In addition to these medications, opioids and other specialised drugs can be used. These include:
- Morphine. A strong opioid used for managing severe postoperative pain.
- Oxycodone. A potent opioid effective in controlling moderate to severe pain after surgery.
- Hydrocodone. Often combined with acetaminophen, used for pain relief in the early postoperative period.
- Lidocaine (Topical). Local anaesthetic for numbing the surgical area, reducing localised pain.
- Bupivacaine (Nerve Block). Used for regional anaesthesia in knee surgery to control pain.
- Gabapentin. Prescribed for neuropathic pain, sometimes used in knee surgery recovery.
Some surgeons may advocate for ice packs or cold compresses if the swelling is particularly severe. They’re highly effective at reducing swelling and inflammation in your knee joint. But if the swelling persists, it can indicate an infection or blood clot.
Complications of Knee Replacement Surgery
All surgery carries risks. Knee replacement surgery is no exception. While overwhelmingly successful in the vast majority of cases, some individuals will experience minor complications. In rare cases, the complications can progress, causing serious injury or disease.
Identifying the early signs of complications can prevent such significant symptoms, ensuring the best possible outcomes.
The most common knee surgery complications include:
- Infection. Risk of infections at the incision site or within the joint, potentially requiring additional treatment or surgery. Look for the cardinal signs of infection: swelling, heat, pus or discharge, pain, and loss of function.
- Blood Clots. The formation of clots in leg veins can lead to conditions like deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. Symptoms usually include pain, swelling, redness, or warmth. If the clot causes a pulmonary embolism in the lungs, you may notice difficulty breathing, chest pain, rapid heart rate, and dizziness or light-headedness.
- Implant Problems. Issues such as loosening, wear, or malfunction of the knee implant sometimes necessitate revision surgery.
- Nerve Damage. Potential damage to nerves around the knee, leading to numbness, tingling, or weakness.
- Stiffness and Limited Mobility. Difficulty in achieving the expected range of motion, resulting in stiffness or limited movement of the knee.
- Persistent Pain. Ongoing or chronic pain in the knee, despite the surgery and rehabilitation efforts
Reducing the Risk of Knee Replacement Complications
Most of the complications listed above are easily preventable. Indeed, Lithuanian hospitals, through meticulous planning and stringent guidelines, reduced their orthopaedic postoperative complications to the 2nd lowest worldwide.
So, what can be done?
Strict adherence to sterile techniques during surgery and postoperative wound care is the main way to reduce the risk of infections. Patients should routinely receive fresh bandages, and hospital staff should monitor for the early signs of infection.
In certain individuals, e.g., diabetics, the risk of infection is raised. Based on the surgeon’s judgement, prophylactic antibiotics may be administered as a preventative measure.
That leads to another factor: detailed medical evaluations. Assessment of existing health conditions and risk factors can help pre-empt any problems, tailoring the surgical approach to each patient.
Blood Clot Prevention
Early mobilisation, postoperative anticoagulation, and the use of compression stockings (or other garments) are the mainstay of blood clot formation. Blood clots develop, particularly in the lower limbs, when blood is allowed to pool for long periods. Known as deep vein thrombosis, it’s a significant risk of knee replacement surgery.
Early Physical Therapy and Patient Education
The earlier a patient begins to move, the better. Structured physical therapy programs not only enhance mobility, promote strength, and reduce stiffness, but they also help lower the risk of blood clots and infection.
Meanwhile, patient education teaches the importance of adhering to rehabilitation protocols, recognising the signs of complications, and understanding why each medication is vital. Just telling a patient to do X doesn’t convince them. Explaining why is key.
Opt for Knee Replacement Surgery Abroad with Kardiolita Hospital.
Kardiolita Hospital is world-leading in complication prevention and pain management. Lithuania is known for the 2nd lowest complication rate after orthopaedic surgeries. Our patients rarely face any complications thanks to our rigorous management.
All patients receive pain medicine for 7-10 days after the surgery and undergo early physical therapy. We even provide a customised rehabilitation program for up to 14 days to guarantee the best results.
Best of all, we provide these high-quality outcomes for a fraction of the knee surgery price in Ireland. Expect to pay around a tenth of the cost.