Using heat can be a valuable tool when recovering from total knee replacement surgery. Although ice gets most of the attention (and should), heat plays a role to help joints, muscles, and ligaments as they recover and regain strength through physical therapy.
Heat can help with blood and fluid circulation. Heat can also loosen up sore muscles by relaxing them before activity and help reduce some of the scar tissue build up after surgery.
In this article we’ll share important information about heating your knee after knee replacement surgery. I’ll share tips and strategies I use with heat therapy and we’ll review a few products available for heating the knee post-surgery. Let’s get started.
Best Heating Pad After Knee Replacement Surgery
|#1||Nature Creation Knee Wrap||Microwave||$$|
|#4||Victor Jurgon||Electric heat and massage||$$$|
How I’ve Used Heating Pads For My Knee
In my youth, I only used heat pads when it was associated with a blanket and I was cold. Heating blankets are still around and warm up the body, but today we’re discussing a heating pad that warms up a small area on the body.
Have you ever felt cold and your joints, muscles, and ligaments felt stiff? It’s a common feeling and as we get older we feel it more often. The feeling of being stiff makes it harder to move around quickly.
The stiff feeling can result from a number of things, including diseases like arthritis, osteoarthritis, lupus, gout, bone cancer, and bursitis, but is most commonly from a loss of movement and flexibility of the muscles and ligaments surrounding the joint. This is why it’s so important to remain active and stretch as we age.
It sounds counterintuitive that join pain can increase due to inactivity because it’s normal to think that rest would help joints, yet movement keeps the body loose and supple like a well-oiled machine.
Before any sporting event, you can observe athletes warming up. Their warm-up is meant to stretch, relax, and heat up the joints, muscles, and ligaments to prepare for intense physical activity.
It’s incredibly difficult to jump off the couch and begin playing a game of football. Rather, you’d do some jumping-jacks, have a light jog so blood can flow to your muscles, heat up the body, and prepare the body for movement.
As I’ve become older I feel I need more time to warm-up. I’ve found a heating pad can help areas of the body that need a little more care, especially places on my body I’ve injured in the past.
After knee replacement, I began using a heating pad more often during my recovery. I alternated using it with icing so I could increase blood flow and circulation to the area, then cool the same area to limit swelling and inflammation.
Is Heat Good After Knee Surgery (Is It Ok To Use Heat)
I asked my doctor if a heating pad was good to use after knee replacement surgery. I learned that generally it’s not good to use heat directly after surgery because there will be a lot of inflammation and irritation to the area. Your main goal after surgery will be to reduce inflammation and swelling so you should focus on icing the area for multiple days after surgery.
Once inflammation and swelling from surgery have dissipated there will be a long period of recovery as your body adapts to its new knee. Using heat during the long-term recovery period is important. After 5-6 days post-surgery, I began to use heat and ice alternatively and it worked great.
What Does Using Ice Do For My Knee Replacement Therapy
I discuss using ice to recover from knee replacement surgery in another article, but in brevity, ice has the opposite effect of heat. Rather than drawing blood to the area and improving circulation, ice reduces blood circulation to the area which is important when trying to limit inflammation and swelling after exercise.
By cooling the area to reduce inflammation and swelling, ice helps the body begin the recovery process. Think of heat as the pre-workout option and ice as the post-workout cool down.
Related: Best Walking Poles for After TKR
Will A Heat Pad Help With Swelling After Knee Replacement Surgery
Ice will do a better job to help reduce swelling after physical therapy or exercise. If your recovery is like mine, you should expect to have swelling for a number of months after surgery.
At first, the swelling was from the actual surgery – this didn’t last long. As I began my recovery and strengthening period I experienced swelling after activity. Following a routine of heating and icing as well as ibuprofen, the swelling was usually subdued and over time I’ve experienced less swelling.
Using a heating pad after surgery will help blood circulation and reduce fluids that build up around the knee. When used with other strategies (ice, elevation, compression, massage) as part of a routine, it can speed up recovery significantly.
My Heating Routine Post-Knee Replacement Surgery
I used a heating pad with straps and I could heat the packs up in the microwave quickly. After the packs were heated I slipped them in their sleeves and attached the wrap to my knee. I stuck to the following routine:
- Heated my knee for 10-15 minutes prior to exercise
- Heated my knee in the evening with rotations of heat/ice (15 minutes each) and light massage
- In the evenings I elevated my leg while heating and icing
- I also took over-the-counter ibuprofen which helped with inflammation post-exercise
- If I was going to sleep, I always concluded my routine with 10 minutes of ice
How To Use Heat On Knee After Replacement Surgery
Using a heating pad after knee replacement surgery is fairly simple. Some heating pads are electric while others have packs that are heated up in the microwave.
There are options that come with a sleeve and straps to secure the heating pad to your knee but simple designs come as a flat pad that can be placed on top of the knee or secured by creativity and household items (socks, rope).
Best Heating Pads To Use After Knee Replacement
No. 1 Nature Creation Knee Wrap
Nature Creation’s knee heat wrap uses a simple design that’s easy to use. It can be used on any limb of the body but works great for knees. It comes in 3 colors, blue, purple, and an artistically designed blue. The knee wrap covers an 8 x 8-inch area.
It’s as easy to use as throwing it in the microwave then strapping it on the knee with 2 straps. The straps are elastic Velcro that does a good job to keep the heat firm against the knee.
One interesting note: the pack contains a mixture of 10 herbs (chamomile, cinnamon, lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary, spearmint, yarrow, white willow, flax seed, and wheat) that are meant for herbal therapy and create a “pleasant” aroma to relieve stress and promote relaxation.
The fabric is 100% cotton. I was hesitant to include this product because it includes the herbal fragrance, however, reviewers seem to like how the product works and the calming aroma. After 1 hour the wrap needs to be reheated for 1 minute in the microwave – I like its simplicity.
No. 2 TheraPAQ – Large Reusable Hot and Ice Pack with Strap
I mentioned this product in our ice pack products and it works for heat as well. This versatile pack is also simple to use. The surface area is larger than the Nature Creation heating pad above and will adequately cover the top and sides of the knee. It uses a gel that can be heated or frozen. For heating there are 2 options:
- Place in hot water – boil water then immerse pack for 8-10 minutes and remove
- Place in microwave and heat at full power for 30 seconds
The gel packs can be put in the sleeve of the pad and it will stay hot for up to 45 minutes before needing to be reheated.
The material is nylon and mesh and the straps are flexible Velcro (no latex). It has a large surface area and is easy to use for heat and cold. This is a well-liked product at an inexpensive price.
No. 3 Sunbeam King Size Electric Heating Pad
I find that heating pads are easier to use and provide more consistent heat over a large area. You need to have a nearby electric outlet or an indoor extension cord. Use caution so that you do not trip over the cord.
Sunbean electric heating pads have been around forever and they work great for post-surgery rehabilitation. This pad, in particular, is the perfect size 12 x 24 and 1.5 lbs. to warm up the knee as well as lower leg and thigh muscles.
You don’t have to worry about adjusting the gel packs because there is none. There are 3 settings, low, medium, and high but they won’t get hot enough to burn your skin (110 F, 138 F, 160 F).
It also has a five-year warranty which is significantly more than any product on the list (the warranty says a lot about the quality of the product). One of the negatives is that there isn’t an auto-off setting that will turn off if accidentally left on.
Most reviewers agree that they like its effectiveness compared to other heating options. They like the fact it has 3 heat settings and they like the size of the pad. I think the five-year warranty helps with satisfaction too.
No. 4 Victor Jurgen Heat Knee Brace Wrap (with vibration massage)
The Victor Jurgen heated knee brace is the most advanced product on this list. It’s an electric heater plus vibrator (massager) that is rechargeable with an included AC adapter. It uses 12W and has three-time settings for 5, 10, or 15 minutes.
If set at its highest temperature, it will reach the maximum in 10 minutes. Unlike the Sunbeam heating pad, the Victor Jurgen has an auto shut-off once the wrap reaches its highest temperature.
This wrap is made with elastic and neoprene material and with environmentally friendly materials such as bamboo charcoal (removes moisture). It also uses jade stones that hold the heat longer than other synthetic products. Elastic straps and Velcro hold the heater/massager in place on a knee (18 inches girth or less).
Reviewers like the contoured design, quality, and the fact that it holds a charge long enough between uses. Other reviewers mention that the massage component is really a weak vibration (could be expected). If you’re a big guy it might have trouble fitting your leg but most average sized people will find that this heating brace will work well for TKR recovery.
No. 5 How To Make Your Own Heating Pad Post-Knee Replacement (DIY Heat Pad)
Many people are interested in making their own heating pad. If you’re one of those people the process is fairly simple and shouldn’t take longer than an hour if you have the materials. Things you’ll need:
- Rice, beans, lintels
- 100% Cotton fabric (sock, old shirt, old flannel)
These materials will eventually go into the microwave so make sure there are not metals or synthetics attached.
Once you have your materials ready, the shirt fabric will need to be cut into a large enough square to cover the knee area. Two squares or rectangles will need to be cut because they will be sewn together with rice, beans, or lentils inside. If you’re using a sock the process is much faster – just insert the rice and tie or sew closed.
The sock/sown material with rice/beans inside can then be placed in the microwave for 30 seconds and checked for heat (you might need a few more seconds).
This homemade heat pad will not hold heat for as long as the gel or electric options but they will add a small amount of heat for a short period of time. Have fun trying the DIY heat pad.
In this article, we discussed the reasons for using a heating pad. Heating pads can be an effective asset as we recover from TKR surgery and should be part of the rehabilitation process. They work great to help warm up the joint, muscles, and ligaments before exercise and can help with blood and fluid circulation.
Heating pads are normally not used right after surgery. Ice should be used first to reduce the inflammation and swelling due to the procedure. Once the strengthening process begins, heat should be used in combination with icing, elevation, and compression.
I mentioned a number of helpful heating products. One product uses herbals to aid with heating and soothing the knee. Another product uses gels that can be heated in the microwave.
The Sunbeam electric heater is the most well-known heating pad company and offers a five-year warranty. The last product we mentioned was a high-tech option.
It has multiple heat settings, is rechargeable and massages the knee as well. You can also make your own heating pad, although it will not provide the same amount of heat for as long as the other options on our list.
As someone who has gone through the process of total knee replacement surgery, we hope you find this article useful. Getting surgery on your knee (or both) isn’t an easy decision and there are many things to learn throughout the process. The purpose of this blog is to share what I went through so others can benefit. Thanks for reading!