Ouch! What did I do to my knee?
If you’re experiencing knee pain, you’re not alone. Most Americans will have knee pain sometime in their life, whether from an accident, overuse, or general wear and tear as they age. Besides being uncomfortable, it’s often debilitating and holds you back from doing the activities you enjoy most. That’s why it’s important to seek prompt treatment.
There’s as many different types of treatment for knee pain as there are types of knee pain, and in many cases the best treatment is surgery. It’s ironic, however, that while surgery is meant to cure the cause of your knee pain, recovery from the procedure will itself be painful. So what do you do with the pain that comes from fixing your pain?
For many people the answer is massage therapy. This is an all-natural and proven method of pain management that more and more knee surgery patients are seeking. And when you see the benefits, it’s no wonder why.
Let’s look closer at why knee pain happens and how massage therapy can aid your recovery and help you get back on your knees, er, feet, and doing your normal activities again.
What’s wrong with my knees?
As part of your legs, your knees are pretty important. Without them you can’t walk or run, kneel to pet a cute dog, kick a ball with the kids, climb into bed after a long day, or embarrass your friends with your dance moves. So when they start giving you pain, it can be debilitating and frustrating.
Pain is your knees’ way of communicating that they are injured. Knee injuries may come from an isolated event like an accident that tears a ligament or breaks a bone, or as a result of wear and tear if you play a sport a lot or participate in other frequent, repetitive physical activities. Wear and tear may also be a result of age. It’s just a fact of life that our bodies weaken over time and our tissues become more fragile.
Additionally, some medical conditions may also cause knee pain and affect mobility. The most common of these are:
- rheumatoid arthritis,
- bone dysplasias,
- death of bone in the knee as a result of blood supply problems,
- knee deformities that result in loss of cartilage.
A doctor can diagnose the cause of your knee pain and determine the best course of treatment. Knee pain isn’t something to ignore. If it doesn’t go away quickly, seek medical attention before you cause yourself more injury.
Fixing the knee pain
So now you’re at the doctor and you have a diagnosis. What comes next? Treatment. The cause and severity of your knee pain will determine the treatment you receive.
Minor strain and injuries will probably just require rest at home. You may be advised to reduce swelling by icing your knee, wrapping it in compression bandages, or keeping it elevated. Minor aches and pains can be controlled with over-the-counter pain medication, or your doctor may prescribe something stronger for more intense pain.
Some knee injuries will require some sort of physical therapy. This may be stretching and strengthening exercises you can do on your own at home, or you may be required to see a physical therapist.
The most severe knee injuries will require surgery, but not all knee surgeries are equal. Some are more invasive than others. These require a longer, more arduous recovery.
Here’s a few examples of the most common knee surgeries:
- Arthroscopy surgery — This is a less invasive type of knee surgery. The surgeon makes a small cut in the patient’s skin and inserts a pencil-sized instrument with a small camera that transmits images of the knee to a screen for the doctor to see. With access like this to the knee, the surgeon can make small repairs like trimming torn cartilage. Recovery time for a small procedure like this is short and relatively easy.
- Ligament or tendon repair— More invasive surgeries are required to repair torn tissues like ligaments or tendons. For instance, reconstructive surgery for a torn ACL involves cutting into the patient’s leg and requires keeping weight off the leg for a few weeks and months of physical therapy.
- Knee replacement surgery — This is very invasive because it requires cutting into the knee and replacing parts of leg bone and cartilage with metal or plastic implants. Partial knee replacement is less strenuous, but either way recovery will require plenty of rest, pain management, physical therapy, and time.
So what about massage therapy?
Most people are able to resume typical activities 3-6 weeks after their knee surgery. However, recovery can be painful, and physical therapy can be a lot of work. That’s why many patients turn to massage therapy for pain management and improved knee function, in conjunction with the medication and physical therapy prescribed by their doctor.
You probably already know that a professional massage feels good. Even when it’s just for fun, massage loosens your muscles, leaving your body feeling calm and relaxed. This is exactly what your body needs after undergoing invasive surgery.
Knee surgery requires cutting into the muscles and tendons around your knee joint. This kind of trauma causes painful inflammation and muscle spasms. A deep tissue massage focusing on the quadricep and hamstring muscles in your thigh, however, can relieve the tension that causes spasms and reduce inflammation. Ahhh…
Sound good? Well it is.
Massage in post-operative care is good for you and has benefits beyond just pain relief. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science about the effects of massage therapy on pain, swelling, and range of motion after total knee replacement surgery found massage to be a comparable alternative to physical therapy in post-operative recovery.
Immediately following any operation, your tissues are basically freaking out and it is common to have swelling and inflammation. Massage has long been recognized as an effective treatment for swelling, as it provides counter pressure that forces the body’s fluids back into the blood vessels where it belongs.
For long-term recovery, a massage therapist can help improve alignment and train all the parts of your knee to work together effectively after surgery and prevent future pain. This is especially important in reconstructive or knee replacement surgeries. Physical therapy will help you learn to use and control your newly repaired knee, but no amount of strengthening exercises will help if things are out of alignment. A massage therapist can make sure everything stays in their places as you recover and that each is practiced in its own small movements. This will prevent long-term pain and improve range of motion and overall function so you can go back to regular life.
Massage is also used in scar tissue therapy. After surgery, scar tissue forms at the incision, including in the cut muscles and tendons around the knee. However, this scar tissue can be more rigid than the mobile tissues around it, so it needs to be “remodeled” or worked over and moved around to train it to tolerate the stress and forces endured by the body. A massage therapist has the training to do this for you, further improving knee function after surgery.
It’s not just about pain relief
Don’t get us wrong, pain relief is a great reason in and of itself to receive post-operative massage therapy, but it’s also proven to improve your entire recovery experience. No surgery recovery will be complete unless you can regain a reasonable, if not full, amount of prior mobility and function of your knee. Massage therapy can help you get just that by reducing side effects of surgery and preparing your knee to be a fully working part of your body again so you can go back to chasing your dog, dancing with friends, or kicking your feet up and relaxing with no discomfort.
If knee pain is getting you down, talk to your doctor soon about treatment. And if surgery is the prescribed treatment, ask about implementing the magic of massage therapy into your post-operative plan so you can make the most out of recovery and quickly go back to making the most out of life.
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