Ways to reduce swelling in the legs after surgery
Swelling in your lower extremities is a normal response after undergoing surgery, but it’s important to limit the amount of swelling as much as you can. Joshua Vaughn, physical therapist with Prisma Health, offered some helpful strategies to reduce swelling in the legs through stretching and exercise.
Minimizing post-surgery swelling in the legs helps reduce your risk for blood clots, which can cause serious complications and require hospitalization to treat. A high level of swelling may also result in higher levels of post-surgical pain or make full recovery take longer than it would otherwise. If you keep up regular stretching and exercise to control swelling, you’ll also find yourself better able to tolerate movement and the physical therapy you may need as part of your recovery or rehabilitation.
Vaughn recommended keeping in mind a simple acronym: RICE.
- R – Rest. Within the first week after surgery, rest when you can and don’t bear any more weight on your leg than your doctor says is safe.
- I – Ice. Continuous application of ice over your surgical dressings, and then 15-minute applications of ice several times a day using a cloth barrier between the ice and direct contact with your skin helps reduce inflammation and lessen swelling.
- C – Compression. After surgery, you’ll have an ACE bandage and surgical dressings in place for 24-48 hours unless your doctor directs otherwise. The ACE bandage helps to compress the area, and Vaughn explained the best way to wrap the bandage.
- E – Elevation. Keep your affected limb above your heart, keeping your knee as straight as possible when applying ice. If you can’t get it above your heart, just try to keep it as elevated as possible to reduce the effect of gravity.
Surgery to the lower limbs can involve lengthy recovery times or require physical therapy to return to comfortable mobility. Reducing swelling during this time period by using the acronym RICE will not only help you stay more comfortable when recovering at home, but can lessen recovery time and get you up on your feet and moving around more quickly.
Here on Flourish, we also offer videos with easy at-home exercises for improving knee strength and range of motion, improved ankle strength and improved ankle balance and proprioception.
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