The muscles and joints in your lower extremities are important for daily living, but many people take this for granted until they experience pain or swelling. A swollen knee is not only uncomfortable, it can also prevent you from going up and down stairs and limit your desire or ability to walk. This can be very disruptive to daily life and should be addressed as soon as possible to help prevent further damage and allow you to quickly get back to normal. Knee swelling can be caused by a range of factors including:
Although the recovery path varies for every individual, most people experience that same phases as they heal.
Typical MCL Surgery Recovery Timeline
- Phase One - In the first six weeks after MCL surgery, the healing process will rapidly progress. The immediate inflammation after surgery can be controlled with rest, elevation, and cold compression therapy to help manage pain and swelling. As the inflammation subsides, rehabilitation begins to help restore the normal function of the joint. The main focus during these initial weeks is to restore range of motion, build up to weight-bearing activities, and increase strength and flexibility without impacting the surgical repair.
- Phase Two - Six to twelve weeks after surgery, most patients are able to advance rehabilitation to include functional training and sports-specific conditioning exercises. During this time your physical therapist will gradually increase both the duration and the intensity of your rehabilitation sessions to help you safely build muscle and increase flexibility.
- Phase Three - This is when you are ready to return to activity. The length of time it takes to achieve full recovery depends on several factors, including:
- How well your body healed during the first weeks after surgery
- Your physical condition before surgery
- The rehabilitation process during the second phase of recovery
The average recovery time for MCL surgery is about six months, but the full range is from twelve weeks to twelve months at each end of the spectrum.
The early stages of MCL surgery recovery influence the entire healing process. Giving your body the opportunity to heal quickly and thoroughly is the best way to return to activity safely. Using Game Ready's cold compression therapy system after MCL surgery will help you heal more quickly, feel more comfortable, and get back on your feet faster.
Our patented system is proven to be more effective than ice alone, which is why both doctors and athletes rely on Game Ready during MCL surgery recovery. Look for a provider near you if you want to integrate Game Ready into your MCL surgery recovery strategy.
How fast do you want to get back in the game?
Whether you are strengthening or stretching, it is important to follow your therapist's instructions carefully as introducing too much activity too quickly can hinder the MCL recovery process.
7 Stretching Exercises for After MCL SurgerySome of the stretching exercises your physical therapist might recommend include:
- Heel prop - Knee hyperextension is one component of proper full range of motion. The heel prop and the next two exercises are designed to improve knee hyperextension. The heel prop is a passive stretching exercise in which your leg rests on a bolster placed at the ankle. Because your foot is slightly elevated, your knee is allowed to be slightly hyperextended. Work with your physical therapist to ensure that you select a correctly sized bolster for this exercise.
- Towel stretch - Using a towel or other static strap wrapped loosely around the ball of your foot, gently pull your toes toward you and allow the knee to hyperextend.
- Active hyperextension - The goal of this exercise is to achieve the same effect as the towel stretch without using a device. With both legs flat while sitting up, using the strength in your quadriceps muscles, lift your heels off the floor.
- Heel slide - Knee flexion is just as important as extension. While lying flat on your back with your knees bent, use a towel or other device to gently pull your heels toward your body.
- Quadriceps stretch - Lay on your side and slightly bend both knees to find a stable position. Deepen the bend in the top leg and bring your heel toward your thigh, gently stretching your muscles in the front of the thigh.
- Hamstring stretch - Lay on your back and bend both knees with your feet flat on the floor. Straighten one leg and use a towel or strap to slowly bring it closer to your body until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh.
- Calf stretch - Stand facing a wall and bring one foot in front of the other as if you were going to do a lunge. Bend the front leg while keeping the back knee straight and push against the wall while keeping your back heel on the floor.
All of these stretches can be done in combination with other activities that will help you recover more quickly, including active cold and compression therapy. After a physical therapy session, using cryotherapy and compression can help reduce the pain and swelling that you are likely to experience after MCL surgery.
For information about how the Game Ready system provides active cold and compression therapy, ask your doctor or find a provider near you. Having Game Ready lined up before your MCL surgery will help make recovery easier and faster.
What other stretches do you plan to do after MCL surgery?
There are many activities you should try to do during MCL surgery recovery. For example, getting plenty of rest, using cold and compression therapy, and following the recommendations from your physical therapist. However, there are also several that you should avoid if you want to ensure the fastest recovery possible.
One of the most common side effects after ACL or MCL surgery is swelling. This is a result of your body's natural reaction to trauma and is an essential component of the inflammatory response. Inflammation actually helps your body heal, but too much swelling can be uncomfortable and impede the recovery process.
If you want to minimize the amount of pain you are likely to experience, it is important to follow all of your doctor's recommendations for recovery. Introducing cold compression therapy shortly after surgery can also help reduce the amount of pain you will experience.
MCL Surgery: Why is it Painful?When your body suffers a trauma, whether it is a blow to the knee that caused the original injury or an incision during surgery, inflammation occurs. Although it can be uncomfortable, inflammation is actually not a bad thing. In fact, it is a necessary part of the healing process.
As the tissues in your body begin to swell, they put pressure on the nerve endings in the surrounding tissue, resulting in pain. In order to make the healing process go as quickly and smoothly as possible, it is important to control inflammation, which subsequently reduces pain.
MCL Surgery: How to Reduce Pain During RecoveryAfter MCL surgery, your doctor will probably prescribe some combination of pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs. Be sure to communicate with your doctor about any pain that you are feeling so they can manage it accordingly.
One way to help control pain and inflammation without medication is with cold compression therapy. It helps reduce pain in multiple ways:
- Therapeutic cold at a consistent temperature actively removes heat from the injury. This causes a numbing effect and slows down cellular metabolism to help reduce secondary tissue that can contribute to continued inflammation.
- Active compression removes edema, or excess fluid, from the area to reduce swelling and the pressure on nerve endings that results in pain. This natural pumping effect also brings more oxygen to healing tissues so they can recover more quickly.
- The combination of active cold and compression allows the therapeutic cold to penetrate to deeper tissues and has a longer lasting effect than ice alone.
Contact us to learn more about Game Ready's cold compression technology or to find a provider near you. The better you can be prepared before MCL surgery, the faster your recovery will be. Talk to your doctor about using cold compression therapy after surgery so you can reduce inflammation and recover with minimal pain.
How prepared are you for your MCL surgery?
Following your doctor's instructions after surgery is most important. You may also work with a physical therapist who recommends exercises to help you improve range of motion by strengthening the muscles around the knee. Following their rehab plan is also critical for full recovery from MCL surgery.
3 MCL Surgery Recovery ComplicationsNot following your doctor's instructions can increase the risk of the following complications:
- Re-injury - Returning to activity too soon or engaging in contact sports before the ligament has fully healed can result in a second rupture or tear.
- Infection - Any incision is susceptible to infection. This complication is easily avoidable with antibiotics that your doctor will prescribe after surgery.
- Knee instability - If you return to activity before the injury has fully healed, you may experience long-term instability in the joint. The MCL is one of seven ligaments in the knee, and one of the most important for providing support in the joint. The key to avoiding this complication is proper rehabilitation. A physical therapist can help you safely return to activity, but you must follow their recommendations to ensure that you don't push yourself too hard too soon after knee surgery.
Some of the complications that cannot necessarily be mitigated during MCL surgery recovery include failure of the repair, prominent hardware, and nerve injury. These types of complications result from the surgery itself and are not caused by patient activities during recovery.