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Icing the knee is an important part of TKR recovery. Most people, even athletes, dislike icing because it’s cold and uncomfortable (numbness and pain).
However, icing your knee after replacement surgery can be an extremely beneficial way to reduce inflammation and aid in a quicker recovery.
How can icing my knee help my recovery? We’ll address that question in this article and I’ll share my experience as an athlete, coach, and someone who’s gone through TKR surgery.
We’ll also discuss the best ice packs for knees after knee replacement surgery, what to look for in a good ice pack, and how to make a homemade ice pack that actually works.
My Experience With Knee Pain, Inflammation, and Icing
I’ve had knee pain since I injured my knee in college. That was decades ago and I’ve managed to live with the pain.
Over the years I’ve made subtle life adjustments to make things less painful.
I’ve adjusted my exercise to include swimming instead of running and I always reserve an aisle seat for flights. For many years I was able to do all the things I loved without too much pain.
I’m a firm believer that icing helped me reduce pain and inflammation.
Pain, no matter where on the body, is usually accompanied by inflammation. Inflammation works well to fight damage and repair the body by increasing blood flow.
When this occurs capillaries become permeable so blood cells, hormones and nutrients can enter the area and repair damage.
Fluid is usually made up of dead white blood cells and other bodily waste after it has been used in the area. For people like me with knee problems, the inflammation and swelling can become chronic when the body doesn’t realize the problem is too serious to repair (in my case no meniscus).
The inflammation is uncomfortable and creates more pain.
When I was younger the inflammation from strenuous activity was minimal but in recent years it was creating more pain. I’ve had my knee drained a few times because there was too much fluid in the joint.
Icing has always been a part of my routine post-exercise. I’ll admit that I don’t ice all the time, only when I know I’ve overworked the knee.
I keep ice packs in the freezer and after a game or hike I’ll grab an ice pack and rest on the couch while I watch the news. I’ve found that icing my knee for 10-15 minutes after exercise noticeably reduces swelling, and thus speeds up recovery.
After my TKR surgery, I’ve been more consistent with icing. It’s understandable that my ligaments, muscles, and bones will take time to adjust to my new knee.
My body alignment has also changed due to the fact I’m no longer limping. The surgeon recommended that I ice daily after surgery, elevate my leg, and also ice after physical therapy sessions (any exercise).
Eventually, the swelling will subside as my knee heals (given there aren’t complications).
Best Ice Pack After Knee Replacement Surgery
|Elasto-Gel Ice Wrap
|Flexible gel, won't leak
|Adalid Ice Pack
|Removable gel pack (neoprene and nylon)
|Shock Doctor Ice Pack and Compression
|Multiple gels packs, adjustable straps
|Ubertherm Ice Pack
|1 large removable gel pack, adjustable
|Therapaq Ice Pack
|Large surface area for heat and cooling
|Made with household materials (soap, alcohol, salt, corn syrup)
How Long Should I Ice My Knee After Knee Replacement Surgery
One question you might be asking is “how long should I ice my knee after surgery”. If you’re like me, swelling will occur most within 2-3 weeks of surgery and less-so from 3-6 months.
Early on, icing is a great way to reduce inflammation and pain.
Most doctors will recommend icing your knee 3-4 times a day. 3-4 times per day for the first 2-3 weeks should be relatively simple because your mobility will be limited.
After a few weeks, inflammation will gradually reduce, but icing can still work great to help decrease inflammation and pain.
If possible, plan to ice your knee daily for months after TKR surgery. Icing will be of value years later too after exercising. If you can make it part of your daily routine it would be smart (for example, 10 minutes every night before bed).
How To Ice Your Knee After Knee Replacement Surgery
Icing your knee is simple and straightforward. The ice helps stop inflammation (associated with heat) in its tracks. Icing can be as simple as a zip-lock bag and ice cubes from the freezer or a specialized ice pack with a wrap to keep the ice secure to your knee.
If you’re using a homemade ice pack (zip-lock) make sure you have a layer of fabric between the bag and your skin. If the ice rests directly against the skin (or thin layer of plastic) it could cause burning.
Wrap the zip-lock bag in a cotton towel then apply to your knee. Zip-lock bags can also leak or perspire so check to make sure there isn’t water coming off the bag.
If you purchase an ice wrap it will be ready to go with fabric to protect your skin and it will likely have a strap to tie the ice to your knee. An ice wrap won’t leak or perspire and will be more user-friendly.
Ice wraps are also reusable so you don’t have to worry about running out of ice (see options below).
When icing your knee it’s good practice to elevate it to heart level using a few pillows. Elevation will help reduce swelling and cycle fluid out of your leg where it can be processed by your body.
You can elevate your leg while icing, but it is important to elevate your knee whenever you are sitting period.
Best Knee Ice Wrap After Knee Replacement Surgery
What makes the best ice wrap for your knee? Early on I was using ice cubes and a zip-lock bag. Was it effective for icing? Yes, however, there were also problems.
The plastic bags occasionally leaked and they always perspired. They also fell off my knee again and again and I had to rearrange them or pick them up.
After a few days, we upgraded to an ice wrap to save the hassle of making ice cubes and cleaning up water leaks. The ice wrap was reusable so we saved water in the process.
The wrap I use has reusable gels that are included with the wrap, they fit inside the wrap and it is applied around my knee with velcro straps.
I can adjust the straps on the wrap to compress the ice against my knee. It’s easy and when I’m finished I throw it in the freezer for a few hours until I’m ready to use it again.
It helps to have 2 wraps to make sure one is always frozen. Below are a few knee ice wraps that I like. Any of these would be useful after TKR surgery and they will last forever.
#1 Elasto-Gel Ice Wrap
When I came home after my TKR surgery I began icing with the Cryo Cuff (you can read about the Cryo Cuff here). The Cryo Cuff saved me time and money on ice.
I filled up the cooler once a day and kept the device near my recliner. I used the same water/ice all day and didn’t have to worry about fetching it from the freezer.
When I began my physical therapy, the therapist mentioned the Elasto-Gel Ice Wrap. I was told that it was the ice wrap preferred by physical therapists because it didn’t leak, was comfortable and easily conforms to the knee.
When I tried their Elasto-Gel Wrap I wasn’t disappointed and decided to purchase one for myself. Transitioning from the Cryo Cuff to the Elasto-Gel was a good decision. It was much easier to use.
The Elasto-Gel is soft and uses velcro to tighten the wrap. It’s also oversized so it fits all knee sizes. This was a great investment for me and I plan to continue using it throughout my first year of recovery. You can even use it for other parts of your body that you may injure.
#2 Knee Support Brace Wrap with Ice Gel Pack – Adalid Gear
Adalid makes a nice quality wrap specifically for the knee and elbow. This product only uses 1 gel pack but it’s a large pack (7.3 x 8.5 inches).
The pack fits in an inside pocket on top of the knee and is strapped on securely by an upper and lower strap. Similar to other wraps on this list, the pack can also be heated for heat therapy.
The brace is an adjustable stretch-type material made from neoprene, nylon, and polyester. The gel pack is leak-proof and reusable. (heated and cooled).
The ice pack can be used for 20 minutes at a time then refrozen. It can also be hand washed if needed.
The ice wrap weighs 1.1 lbs and is guaranteed for one year with a no hassle replacement. Because it uses 1 ice pack, it will not be able to ice the back of the knee.
If you’re creative you might be able to make it work for the back of the knee but the main downside to this wrap is only 1 ice pack (but it’s big).
In some ways, one large ice pack will be easier to manage than having to arrange multiple smaller ice packs – your call.
#3 Shock Doctor Ice Recovery Compression Knee Wrap
The Shock Doctor is a perfect ice wrap for knees. It is contoured to fit any knee at a slight bend. It uses adjustable straps and gel ice packs.
Although it’s advertised for tendonitis, knee bruises, and strains, it is perfect for people like me recovering from knee replacement surgery.
This compression wrap comes in 2 sizes (S/M or L/XL). In the smaller sizes there are 3 ice packs while the larger have 4 ice packs. All ice packs are removable and reusable.
The wrap uses kycra pockets for the ice packs and N-Tex neoprene for the wrap material. It is latex free. The wrap only weighs 1 pound so it’s lightweight too.
I like the fact it adds a compression component to the icing and the adjustable straps allow the user to tighten for comfort without worrying about the ice falling off.
Reviews say that patients love it for their knee replacement and that it stays cold longer than your typical ice pack. It can also be used for heating!
#4 Ubertherm Compression Ice Wrap
Ubertherm is a popular ice wrap made for reducing inflammation and knee pain. It uses 1 large ice pack that covers the knee. The ice pack can also be adjusted (reversed) to ice the back of the knee as well.
The cold pack uses multiple chambers of gel that don’t freeze (never below 34 degrees F) into an ice block. Rather, it gets cold and holds some flexibility.
The gel will stay cold up to an hour and refreezes in an hour – longer than others on our list.
Ubertherm markets their product as providing a longer icing time, comfortable, and with good strap support. The gel can be removed as packets so the wrap can be washed.
It weighs 1.8 lbs and measures 12.2 x 5.2 x 4 inches. Ubertherm is a U.S. company based in Maryland.
Reviews mention it works great without the hassle of ice. Others mention the quality is superb but they must keep the leg straight while icing (should be expected right).
I like the appearance and the fact it’s gel never freezes – it remains at the perfect temperature for icing.
#5 TheraPAQ Large Reusable Gel Ice Pack w/ Wrap
The gel pack fits inside a rectangle pack that can be strapped to the leg.
The straps are made with elastic and Velcro. Its design is functional and it doesn’t offer the knee contouring that other ice wraps on our list offer. The pack can be taken out of its sleeve and put in the freezer or heated.
I like the product and the price – and so do other customers. It comes with a money back guarantee if you aren’t 100% satisfied (any time).
TheraPAQ weighs 2 lbs and measures 11 x 14 inches, making it one of the larger ice packs on our list.
Due to its large flat design, it might work better on flat body parts (like the back) than it does for rounded areas of the body like the knee. However, it has good enough reviews to be an option to ice your knee after knee replacement.
Ice Pack For Knee: Homemade Options (How To Make A Cold Homemade Ice Pack For Your TKR)
If you’re a true do-it-yourselfer (DIY) I’m also including an option to make your own ice pack. I mentioned earlier that adding ice cubes to a zip-lock bag is the simplest solution and as long as you’re not worried about excess moisture or leakage then you can go with it – I’ve done it before and it works.
If you’re willing to give a little more effort you can make your own gel-like ice pack. It won’t cost much but it will take you some time.
If you make multiple homemade ice packs then you can always have one frozen ready to use while the other is refreezing. Below are a few options.
Let us know what DIY ice pack works best for your TKR recovery.
Homemade gel ice pack
The homemade gel ice pack requires three items.
- First, you’ll need a few gallon-sized zip-lock bags (the big ones).
- Second, you’ll need 2 cups of water, and finally 1 cup of rubbing alcohol. The rubbing alcohol will keep the water from completely freezing and it will be more malleable to fit around your knee.
Mix the 2 cups of water and 1 cup of rubbing alcohol in a zip-lock bag and seal. When you seal it, make sure all of the air can escape.
Now, put the first bag into another zip-lock bag. You can even use a third zip-lock bag to ensure there isn’t a leak.
Put all the bags into the freezer for 1 hour and the contents should result in a gel-like substance perfect for icing. If you need some extra help, check out the video below.
Homemade ice pack salt
A homemade ice pack with salt results in a slush-like substance that can be effective for icing after knee replacement surgery. Salt lowers the temperature needed to freeze water and adding a few tablespoons to water will make the perfect ice pack that can be used again and again.
To make the salt ice pack add 2 tablespoons of salt to 2 cups of water. For a gallon sized zip-lock bag use 3 cups water and 3 tablespoons of salt.
Place the zip-lock bag inside another zip-lock bag to make sure nothing will leak and you’ve got a DIY ice pack for knee replacement rehab.
Homemade ice pack with dish soap or corn syrup
Another option is to use dish soap or corn syrup as your liquid instead of water. You can dump a whole container of dish soap in a zip-lock bag and you don’t need any other ingredients.
The same goes for corn syrup.
While writing this I wondered, “why use dish soap or corn syrup – it’s wasteful” then I remembered you can always use the dish soap later after you’ve stopped icing (just refill the container it came in. I like this idea.
A corn syrup or dish soap leak would be horrible to clean so do the same as recommended above and use a few zip-lock bags to make sure there’s a seal.
Homemade ice pack rice, coins, or frozen vegetables
Use these only in case of emergency! These are options, but honestly, they won’t work as good as ice or homemade gel. Rice, coins, and vegetables can be frozen and they will retain the cold long enough to ice your knee, but there are better options above.
Homemade ice packs are not created equal. If I had to choose one, I’d go with the water + alcohol or water + salt.
Try these out and let us know which one is best for you.
Can You Ice Too Much After Knee Replacement
I’ve been asked if there is such a thing as “icing too much”. Generally, you don’t want ice on your knee all day.
Exercise and movement is an important part of healing so don’t remain in one position and ice your knee constantly.
In my experience, icing should be done alternatively with movement. Early after TKR surgery, you’ll be icing more often. After a few months, you will ice less often.
The length of time you ice matters and you won’t want to ice for longer than 15-20 minutes at a time. Longer icing might damage skin or cause localized frostbite.
Excessive Swelling After Knee Replacement Surgery
Swelling should be expected after knee replacement surgery so there’s no cause for alarm. Swelling can remain for 3-4 months after surgery and that’s why icing is so important.
In addition to ice, there are a few recommendations that medical professionals say should be followed. These good practices are:
Compression can be applied to the knee to reduce swelling and pooling of fluid in the leg. Compression stockings go on the leg and are tight against the skin (think of a tight sock).
They are also used when we are standing for long periods of time or exercising. Standing activities will increase blood flow and swelling to the area.
In the section above I mentioned how to incorporate elevation with icing. Elevation can also be done on its own while watching television or while reading.
Elevation also reduces swelling and promotes proper blood flow throughout the body.
When using elevation to reduce fluid in the leg, try to elevate the leg to the same level as the heart. This can be done for 20-30 minutes and be used in combination with ice.
Most importantly, exercise. Exercise can promote swelling if strenuous but it also increases blood flow and helps to reduce blood clots in the leg after surgery.
Exercise post-knee replacement should be low-impact and short (start slow and consult your doctor). Getting the blood pumping through the body is great for circulation and you can follow up the exercise with ice and elevation.
What About Heating My Knee
Heating your knee is something you’ll probably do after knee replacement surgery. I use heat the opposite way than I use ice.
Before physical therapy, exercise, or stretching, I use heat to warm up the knee and attract blood and improve elasticity.
Heating can help loosen the joint and attract blood – we’re going for the opposite effect with icing which usually occurs after activity or during recovery.
In this article, we discussed icing after knee replacement surgery. I discussed my experience icing my knee and the relief I received when icing to reduce inflammation.
We also discussed how inflammation works, the length of time to ice and how long you should be icing your knee after surgery. There were 3 other activities to remember in addition to icing that will help reduce inflammation and pain.
- Elevation will help reduce fluid build up in the leg.
- Compression will discourage swelling and the risk of blood clots after surgery.
- Exercise – although it might not sound like a good idea right after TKR surgery, exercise is important for blood circulation and helps flush out toxins while strengthening the muscles and ligaments around the knee.
There are many different knee ice wraps on the market that make icing an easier task. While you can create your own ice packs, sometimes buying an ice wrap is more effective and less of a hassle in the long run.
We really like the Uberthereum Compression Wrap because it’s functional and has been well reviewed.
If a DIY project is in order, try out the variety of homemade ice packs that can be made using just a few ingredients and handy zip-lock bags. Multiple homemade ice packs can be made and rotated to use as one refreezes.
Just remember to use multiple bags to reduce leakage and wrap the ice pack in cloth to avoid freezer burn of the skin.
I hope you enjoyed this article and my experience recovering from total knee replacement surgery. It’s been a long road, with preparation, surgery, and recovery but the result is worth it.
I hope you regain your health and mobility just like I did.