Recovery after surgery can be a long, bedraggled nightmare. But these products can help lift the load.
I write this as I’m at 3 weeks recovered from my first total knee replacement. It’s a big surgery with an extended period of recovery, rehabilitation, and rest. And I have another knee surgery coming up, so I’m learning from my mistakes from the first time around. After years of knee injuries and pain, I’m stoked to be on the right track.
Being a gear writer, it’s been interesting to note what I’m grabbing as I ramble through recovery. Before surgery, I scoured the internet to see which gear might be helpful for knee surgery — and little existed on the matter. Luckily, I have a platform to share with you what’s worked for me.
From compression wear to icing machines to comfort items, here’s what’s helped me out in these first few weeks.
Cold therapy is key to recovery. Not only does it reduce swelling in the joint, but it’s also a go-to for pain management. Skimping on this part of your rehab would be a huge mistake.
On advice from my doctor, I combine a cryotherapy machine with ice packs. Luckily, a friend of mine has a machine that I’m able to borrow. But you can find a ton of options online. Many people rent machines from medical device stores, but you can also buy an adequate machine for less than it costs to rent.
The pictured Aircast Cryo Cuff Cold Therapy Knee Solution ($110) is a gravity-powered option with good reviews, or you can up the ante with the motorized Polar Products Active Ice 3.0 Knee & Joint Cold Therapy System ($220).
Ice packs also prove to be invaluable as you move from place to place. I like the FlexiKold Gel Ice Packs, as there are a ton of options for sizes and packages that range from $10 to $28. Plus, ice packs are a universally good buy.
Aside from cryotherapy, you can use them to keep lunches cold or chill a wine bottle. I have four packs in rotation. It’s a thing.
The pile of meds you’re about to take is gargantuan. And to stay on top of it, you’re going to be constantly drinking water. A small, packable water bottle becomes indispensable once you’re stuck on the couch or in bed. Plus, it saves your dutiful and helpful family members and friends from having to refill your water glass constantly.
Personally, I love the Takeya 24-ounce Actives Insulated Water Bottle ($25). Why? I can fit it in a purse. It fits into the drink holders in my truck. I can shove it into the pocket of a hoody. And I love the design of the mouthpiece. It’s also cute and comes in a ton of fun colors. But a classic Nalgene certainly holds a bit more water, or you can kick it old school and just use a repurposed Gatorade bottle.
The other side of hydration is that the meds have gifted me insanely dry skin. My PT tells me it’s just part of the game. A combo of Burts Bees Intensive Care Body Lotion ($12) and Bag Balm ($12) are seeing me through this otherwise lizard-like skin event that is surgery recovery.
Weird Medical Equipment
Here’s where things get … interesting. So my doc harped on me about getting a toilet riser, and I did. I only needed it for the first 3 days, but when you’re first out of surgery and everything in your leg is a mess, it’s honestly a lifesaver and worth the money. I went with one that didn’t have handles, but if you don’t have anything near your toilet for a handhold, I’d grab one with handles.
I also highly recommend are crutch pads ($13). Bruised armpits are no freakin’ joke. Luckily, they’re easily preventable. For under $15, you can easily avoid that and make your crutches just a bit cuter and much more comfortable. It’s a cheap, easy fix. Save your pits. Trust me on this one.
Some people like to get kits that include things to help with daily dressing or reaching stuff. I opted out. I just didn’t want to buy a ton of stuff that would gather dust. My mom helped me put on my socks. It worked out just fine.
The last thing I’ll add here is your classic tennis ball ($2). Myofascial massage has been really helpful throughout my recovery. I roll the ball as gently or as intensely as I feel like I need it around the scar and my leg muscles. The soft give of a tennis ball is easier on my rehabbing leg than a lacrosse or massage ball. And muscle soreness is such a huge part of the pain game. It helps so much.
I’m certainly not going to tell you that you need a whole new wardrobe. But you might need a few additions. Men might have an easier time with clothes, as their workout pants are generally not yoga tights. Mine — on the other hand — were just that.
I knew I’d need wide-legged pants, and they proved harder to find than I thought. I ended up making a mistake and buying wide-legged pants without pockets. Pockets, it turns out, are the be-all, end-all of post-surgical necessities in clothing. Carrying cellphones, wallets, meds, water bottles, or any small knick-knack is a real downer when your hands are full of crutches and there are no pockets on your bod.
The pictured Basin & Ridge Plush Wide Leg Pant ($63, 30% Off) look to hit the mark, and I’ve got a pair in my cart for the upcoming surgery on my left knee.
Once you’ve graduated from wide-legged pants to regular, I find that going into the extreme opposite is most helpful. I’m talkin’ compression tights. I’ve been wearing Ridge Merino’s Crowley Compression Tight ($120), and the difference in a day with compression and a day without is huge.
Unfortunately, they’re currently sold out. But they’ll be back this summer, and a preorder should be available soon. And here’s a more affordable and highly reviewed pair for $26 currently on Amazon.
Preparing Your Home
The main thing you have to think about when prepping your home is safe mobility throughout and comfort therein. Decluttering hallways, bedrooms, bathrooms, and the living room are key to ease of movement. If you have thick rugs, you might want to consider moving them until your mobility increases.
I added an electric recliner to my small living room — less by choice of style than necessity — and it’s made a huge difference for both working remotely and comfortably as well as having a space that can easily support and accommodate the growing flexion in my knee. I also added a handheld showerhead, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to take full showers for a few weeks.
Depending on how much help you have during the day, you might want to put things like coffee cups and dishes on counters for ease of access. Some folks will keep a chair in each room so that they have someplace to rest or do chores as they’re recuperating. It’s crazy how intense your normal small walks can be in the first week of healing. So set yourself up for success.
There’s something to be said for preparing for more comfort during uncomfortable times. As much as we focus on gear that allows us to stay active, there’s that great other side of gear that simply allows us to remain comfortable, in control, and functional.
Over 600,000 people per year have knee replacements in the U.S., and that hardly touches the total number of knee operations. The good news is that you’re soon to be on your way beyond a lasting kind of pain and into the healing kind. I’m in the midst of that journey to wellness, and I wish you the best on yours.