People have been using heat and cold therapies to ease pain in joints for years. When you’re recovering from joint replacement surgery any relief is welcome, but knowing the right way to apply these therapies and what they do will help you get the most out of them.
In the wake of your surgery, there is a very high chance of swelling near the operated joint. Similar to injuries ice is used to reduce swelling after surgery because it constricts your blood vessels, which inhibits the fluid buildup that causes inflammation and pain. On the other hand, heat is used to relax your muscles and reduce tension around the affected joint. It can also increase blood flow to an area and repair damaged tissue.
In general icing the joint after surgery is recommended first and foremost, not only because of swelling reduction but because it can also help stop any internal bleeding as your body heals. Bleeding into a joint postoperatively can cause a hematoma, a pooling of blood under the skin. Hematomas in post-op joints can increase the risk of infection, can decrease range of motion, and cause pain which leads to immobility. Usually, after your body has had some time to heal on its own your doctor may recommend heating pads or packs to help soreness and stiffness in the muscles surrounding the joint after not having used them very much after surgery and they become acclimated to the new joint.
Whether using hot or cold therapies it’s important to limit the time of the treatment to no more than 15 minutes at a time. Ice packs or cubes should never come in direct contact with the skin and heating tools should be dry (i.e not a warm damp rag) so as to keep moisture away from the cast and any potential stitches or ulcers on the skin.
When done correctly, these are extremely cost-effective ways to treat joint pain post-surgery and start you on the road to recovery.