Can You Use A Heating Pad After Total Knee Replacement? | Tips, Do’s and Don’ts

Written By on September 19, 2022 — Medically Reviewed By Kris Ceniza (PT)

Written by on — Medically Reviewed By: Kris Ceniza (PT)

Heat therapy is a common recovery method for most injuries and even post-surgical cases. So this begs the question: Can you use a heating pad after total knee replacement?

The short answer is, no – not immediately. You might do more harm than good if you go for heat therapy right away.

We’ll give you science-backed details on why that seems to be the case, and why ice is the better option. Tap any of the links below to navigate to quickly navigate the article:

Why should you avoid using heat right after a knee replacement?

Heat widens blood vessels and accelerates fluid circulation. (1) This is problematic for those with a recent knee replacement for several things, such as (2):

  • Heat application could cause more joint bleeding, especially if you are still taking blood thinner medications.
  • It could aggravate the inflammatory process. This leads to more pain and swelling which could delay your recovery.

Using a heating pad isn’t always a bad thing, though.

It’s a handy tool to have in relieving pain and loosening your joint. However, you have to wait for a few months to let the surgical site adequately heal before using it on your knee.



Cold therapy is better for immediately after your knee replacement

Cold has the opposite effect of heat in that it narrows your blood vessels. This in turn helps tone down inflammation, and relieve both pain and swelling. (2)

Ice packs and wraps are some examples you can pair with your narcotic pain medications to make your healing knee feel better.

Related: What’s best for a swollen knee – ice or heat?

3 do’s after knee replacement

There are other things you should consistently do to encourage faster healing. Here are a few of them.

1) Follow your doctor’s instructions carefully

To help your knee heal properly, you should stick to your doctor’s recovery guidelines. Some of these may be a bit much, but they will guarantee your healing process goes as smoothly as possible.

These guidelines could include:

  • How to wash your wounds and apply bandages.
  • Medication dosage and frequency.
  • How much weight you can put on your leg.
  • Movements to avoid.
  • How soon you can start physical therapy.

2) Consistently attend physical therapy

After total joint replacement, your body needs medical guidance to recover. That’s why you need to keep up with your physical therapy appointments to ensure you’re healing well.

See, a physical therapist will help gain back your knee’s strength and mobility. Each session allows them to check if you are achieving recovery benchmarks, and adjust if necessary.

I know it can be a tough rehabilitation process and progress seems slow at times. But slow progress is still progress and quitting will not make it any easier.

3) Take supplements

Adding any of these to your diet may potentially accelerate your healing process. But it is important to talk to your doctor first before taking any of the following.

Turmeric

This spice contains curcumin, a compound that has anti-inflammatory properties to relieve pain. (3)

For dosage, 1000mg of turmeric extract per day is the recommended dose. Research shows that it has the same effect as painkillers if continually taken for 8 to 12 weeks. (4)

Keep reading: Turmeric and knee pain – everything you need to know.

CBD

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound that comes from the cannabis plant and helps provide pain relief. It comes in various forms, like oils, edibles, and pills. (5)

One thing to keep in mind is there is yet to have a recommended dosage for CBD. So it’s probably safer if you start with small doses to safely see what works for you.

Learn more: Is taking CBD for knee replacement a good idea?

Glucosamine

This is a naturally occurring substance present in our joint cartilage. Studies show that it also helps fight against inflammation, potentially easing post-surgical pain. (6)

Although there aren’t any recommended dosages, studies show that taking 1000 to 1500 mg per day of glucosamine is safe and effective. (7)

This may help: Ultimate guide on glucosamine for knee pain.

3 don’ts after knee surgery

Save yourself from recovery setbacks and whatnots by avoiding the following:

1) Abstain from alcohol

Alcohol can lead to different consequences depending on which medication you mix it with.

First, alcohol limits blood clotting. Drinking while you are still on a blood thinner could delay your wound healing. (8)

Alcohol could also make you more drowsy if you pair it with prescription painkillers, like tramadol. (9)

Finally, it could also further impair your balance, risking falls and fractures.

2) Avoid placing a pillow right under your knee

This position could tighten up your leg muscles and knee joint, making it harder to move your leg in the long run.

So when sleeping on your back or lounging around, try placing a pillow or two underneath your ankle and calf instead. This elevates your leg and decreases swelling while keeping your knee straight, promoting healing.

3) Don’t disregard your home exercises

These exercises bridge the gaps between each of your PT sessions. Doing them consistently allows you to recover faster compared to just relying on in-person physical therapy.

If it’s taking too much time to finish or you think that it isn’t working, do not hesitate to tell your PT. They could easily adjust your exercises to suit your needs.

Related: 11 exercises for knee pain (with images)

FAQs

Why is heat not recommended after knee replacement?

Heat is not recommended after a knee replacement as it might worsen inflammation and delay your healing.

How long does it take for a total knee replacement to stop hurting?

It could take a few months after surgery for a total knee replacement to stop hurting.

Is a heating pad good after surgery?

A heating pad has no good use after surgery as it might cause more pain and swelling. Use ice or a cooling pad first and switch to heat after the inflammation has gone down and your wound is adequately healed.

Conclusion: Is it ok to use heat after knee replacement surgery?

It’s not okay to use heat therapy after a knee replacement as it may delay healing.

What you should do instead is apply an ice pack to reduce inflammation and make your knee feel better.

To further accelerate your recovery, you can add physical therapy and supplements to the mix. Just make sure that you have approval from your orthopaedic surgeon before doing so.



Resources

  1. Malanga, Gerard A et al. “Mechanisms and efficacy of heat and cold therapies for musculoskeletal injury.” Postgraduate medicine vol. 127,1 (2015): 57-65. DOI: 10.1080/00325481.2015.992719
  2. Behrens, Barbara J et al. “Physical Agents: Theory and Practice.” F. A. Davis Company, Jul 11, 2005. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=ndjaAAAAQBAJ&source=gbs_book_similarbooks
  3. Daily, James W et al. “Efficacy of Turmeric Extracts and Curcumin for Alleviating the Symptoms of Joint Arthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials.” Journal of medicinal food vol. 19,8 (2016): 717-29. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2016.3705
  4. Paultre, Kristopher et al. “Therapeutic effects of turmeric or curcumin extract on pain and function for individuals with knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review.” BMJ open sport & exercise medicine vol. 7,1 e000935. 13 Jan. 2021, doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2020-000935
  5. Russo, Ethan B. “Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain.” Therapeutics and clinical risk management vol. 4,1 (2008): 245-59. doi: 10.2147/tcrm.s1928
  6. Kantor, Elizabeth D et al. “Associations between glucosamine and chondroitin supplement use and biomarkers of systemic inflammation.” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) vol. 20,6 (2014): 479-85. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2013.0323
  7. Zhu, Xiaoyue et al. “Effectiveness and safety of glucosamine and chondroitin for the treatment of osteoarthritis: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Journal of orthopaedic surgery and research vol. 13,1 170. 6 Jul. 2018, DOI: 10.1186/s13018-018-0871-5
  8. Howard, Benjamin M et al. “The effects of alcohol on coagulation in trauma patients: interpreting thrombelastography with caution.” The journal of trauma and acute care surgery vol. 77,6 (2014): 865-71; discussion 871-2. DOI: 10.1097/TA.0000000000000357
  9. “Can I drink alcohol if I’m taking painkillers?National Health Service, 11 January 2020, https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/medicines/can-i-drink-alcohol-if-i-am-taking-painkillers/

Author
Paolo Sarmiento (PT)
Paolo is a physical therapist, educator and fitness enthusiast. He shares his knowledge and experience in helping people deal with health issues, especially with the knee. As health-conscious as he can be, he enjoys long bicycle rides, early morning runs, and a good slice of pizza with extra pepperoni.

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