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How long does swelling last after surgery?

How Long Does Swelling Last After Surgery
4 minutes, 17 seconds

Swelling is a very common and natural side effect of an injury as well as surgery. No matter how natural it is, however, swelling can often feel uncomfortable. Depending on the extent of your surgery and its location, your swelling can stretch your skin with fluid, leading you to feel a tight, tender sensation in the area of your surgery. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to pinpoint how long your swelling will last post-surgery. 

Thankfully, a few factors can help you determine whether your swelling is within a normal, healthy range, and treatments like physical therapy can help speed up your recovery time. By following your doctor’s instructions, implementing at-home treatments, and attending physical therapy sessions, you can help prevent your swelling from getting in the way of your post-surgery recovery. 

Why do you swell after surgery?

Your body naturally swells with fluid as a result of inflammation. When your body detects an injury, illness or infection, it sends white blood cells and enzymes to the site. This can result in noticeable swelling and discomfort. Your swelling after surgery may also be accompanied by other symptoms such as: 

  • Bruising. 
  • Pain. 
  • Clear drainage from the site of surgery. 
  • Tenderness. 

While the above symptoms can be expected after surgery, the below symptoms should prompt you to seek medical attention as soon as possible: 

  • A sudden increase in swelling. 
  • Noticeable and discolored discharge in the area of swelling. 
  • A change of skin color around your incision.
  • Fever.
  • Redness or heat around your incision.

How long should swelling last after surgery? 

It can be difficult to predict how much swelling you will develop after a surgical procedure, as several factors can determine how long your swelling may last. Generally, your swelling will peak in the first days or weeks after surgery and then gradually go down over time. Your swelling may not completely go down until months after your procedure, but you should recognize slight improvements every day. 

The following factors can determine the duration of your post-surgery swelling:

  • The type of procedure.
  • The body part that was operated on.
  • Your overall health and diet.
  • Your genetics.

It is important to note that minimally invasive procedures produce less swelling than procedures that require an incision and stitches. In addition, some body parts react differently to inflammation and injury, thereby swelling more than other body parts. Also, if you have poor circulation as a result of genetics or lifestyle, you may notice more swelling or that your swelling lasts longer than normal after surgery. 

You should tell your doctor if your swelling does not improve gradually after your surgery. Your doctor can help ensure that you are not experiencing results of a postoperative complication such as an infection. 

What can you do to reduce how long your swelling lasts after surgery?

If your swelling is causing you immense discomfort, or if you want to speed up your recovery process, you can try a variety of techniques. The following methods may help encourage your body to heal and reduce how long your surgery and inflammation lasts over time: 

  • Rest — While you’re healing after surgery, you should avoid strenuous activity. As a result, rest may be at the top of your doctor’s post-surgery instructions. However, as much as rest is important, light exercise can improve your circulation and prevent fluid from accumulating in pockets of your body. Be sure that your doctor approves light exercise post-surgery before you proceed.
  • Ice or cold compresses — Your doctor may recommend that you apply ice to the site of your surgery, as applying ice limits blood flow to the area to reduce swelling and inflammation. Ice may be especially effective within the first 48 hours after surgery, when your swelling may be at its highest. 
  • Compression and elevation — Compression garments such as compression socks apply even pressure across your post-surgery area to control the accumulation of fluid in your body. Similarly, elevating your wound above your heart can encourage fluid to empty back into the rest of your body. When you combine compression and elevation, you may be able to reduce how long your swelling lasts after surgery.
  • Hydration — Dehydration can worsen your swelling symptoms and cause your body to develop edema, particularly in your hands and feet. Therefore, you should try your best to avoid eating salty foods and drink plenty of water throughout the days after your surgery. Doing so can help minimize how long your swelling lasts.
  • Physical therapy — Physical therapists can introduce you to exercises and stretches that release tension in the tissue surrounding your swelling, strengthen weakened muscles around your wound, and encourage blood flow. If you are concerned about how long your swelling is lasting after surgery, your physical therapist can examine your symptoms and design exercises that target inflammation. Throughout this process, your physical therapist can work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that is safe for your specific surgery, medical history and type of swelling.

Alliance PTP is ready to help you find top-notch PT for post-surgery swelling

Are you anxious to get your swelling down after your surgery? Need help knowing how long your swelling will last? At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. 

Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can help you address your post-surgery swelling.

Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform. 

Come find help for your injury or chronic condition today!

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