Sleeping well is possibly both the most important, and the most challenging task to be accomplished while recovering from surgery. When our bodies are well rested and not stressed, they heal quicker and better, as well as less painfully.
However, especially after surgery, the pain and placement of the wound itself can make it a struggle to find a good position or set-up to sleep. This is even more true when the nature of the procedure forces us to adapt our sleeping positions.
In one of our previous articles we have covered ways to sleep after hernia surgery and in this article we will cover things to watch after having meniscus surgery. In order to help you recover faster from it, we at Sleep Reporter have looked into ways to make yourself comfortable. We’ll take you through the very specific nature of meniscus surgery, the issues that you should be aware of, and cover the ways on how to sleep after meniscus surgery, how to settle in properly and get the best sleep during the recovery.
What is meniscus surgery?
Per Alberta’s online patient handout, “Meniscus surgery removes or fixes the cartilage (meniscus) between the bones in the knee.” It is commonly required for athletes or adults over the age of 65, and usually done with arthroscopic surgery, meaning that “your doctor put a lighted tube – called an arthroscope or scope – and other surgical tools through small cuts (incisions) in your knee.”
Such a surgery can obviously leave you feeling tired for quite a while, and many sources warn that full recovery may take up to six months. Just like any other arthroscopic surgery, meniscus surgery carries a number of post-op risks like blood clots, swellings of the area, as well as infections. This is why it is particularly important to sleep and rest well after meniscus surgery. For that, here are our top eight tips.
How to sleep after meniscus surgery?
1. Rest when you feel tired
This may seem like a given but plenty of people actually forget that first and foremost, surgery is invasive and will require extra rest time. In order to recover more quickly from meniscus surgery, the main advise that you should concentrate on is to remember to listen to yourself and to what your body needs.
If you can, take the time off work. Make sure to avoid stress as much as possible and prioritize your sleep. If you need a nap in the afternoon and can afford to take one, please do not hesitate to do so. Our bodies are generally quite good at knowing what we need and listening to them is one of the most important things we can do after any kind of medical procedure. Additionally, remember that if something just does not feel right or if you are experiencing any unexpected symptoms, it is always a good idea to consult a doctor.
2. Make sure you are taking the right medication
While not everything can or should obviously be solved with pain medication, it is important to ensure that, at least for the first few days, you are appropriately medicated and supported to deal with the pain caused by your recent meniscus surgery. Your knee has just been sliced open and you will need time to adjust to the changes that this entails.
In terms of meniscus surgery, people’s experiences vary greatly and it is hard to predict how much pain you will be experiencing after surgery. Some patients experience anything from a mild discomfort to a pulsing and somewhat intense ache. While we do hope that your experience will be closer to the former, do remember that there is absolutely no reason for you to be in agony for days at a time after surgery.
If pain is preventing you from sleeping at night, you may want to talk to your doctor about the dosage of your pain medication or even consider taking sleeping aids. This can either off-the-counter medication like melatonin supplements, or sleeping pills to be prescribed by your doctor.
Either way, remember that you will not be getting any medals for putting yourself through the worst or being in excruciating pain for weeks on end. This may actually even have negative effects on your recovery as pain raises your stress levels and prevents you from healing quicker. At this time, be sure to take proper care of yourself.
3. Follow your doctor’s recommendations and keep your bandages clean and dry
Before going to bed at night, make sure to follow any recommendation that your doctor has made, and particularly make sure that your bandages are dry and the wound clean. This will ensure that you are comfortable during the night and also minimize the risk of infection.
4. Sleep on your back with your leg slightly elevated
Generally, after meniscus surgery, the main advise is to sleep on your back with your leg slightly elevated, for instance with a pillow underneath. While this may take some getting used to, it will greatly reduce the stress on your muscles and joints, as well as keep your knee in the right position for healing.
Additionally, as anyone familiar with the “heavy legs” syndrome knows, keeping your legs and knees elevated helps with blood flow, which in turn reduces the risk of clots in your legs. As this is one of the main post-op risks for meniscus surgery, sleeping with your legs elevated is essential in preventing it.
Moreover, sleeping in this position after meniscus surgery is usually the best way to prevent accidental movements during your sleep, which may cause bumps against the incision area. This prevents risks of pain, bleeding, and infection, and in turn, will help with a speedier recovery.
In order to do this, keep in mind that if you usually sleep with a partner, you may want to consider sleeping in the spare bedroom for a few days as sleeping with a pillow at the bottom of their bed may also hinder their sleep.
5. Consider investing in a zero-gravity reclining chair
Be it for an afternoon nap or to try and sleep during the night after your surgery, sleeping in a reclining chair may be a good idea in order to keep your legs up and allow your entire body to be fully supported.
To do so, make sure you invest in a chair that is sufficiently sturdy and will keep your legs up without bending your knee too much. These chairs generally help with blood flow and will also keep your knee safe from accidental bumps against your scar.
6. If sleeping on your side, you may also use a pillow
While the advice is still to sleep on your back when possible, many people find this very challenging, especially as they age. Right after surgery may not be the best time to try something new, especially if it’s inconveniencing your sleep so you may still want to try and sleep on your side.
If so, try to sleep on your good side (where the non-surgery knee is) and keep a pillow between your legs. This will allow you to keep the weight off your more sensitive knee and should still be quite comfortable while recovering.
Obviously, it really isn’t advisable to sleep on the side of your leg that has undergone surgery, as this will mean putting more of your weight on your injured knee. This may be quite painful and may also harm your recovery.
7. Remember not to bend your knee
This is probably advice that was already given by your doctor but do try not to bend your knee while sleeping. This is valid both for sleeping on your back or on your side.
Any added stress to your knee may very easily slow down your recovery and end up being quite a painful exercise, due to the specific nature of meniscus surgery.
8. Try breathing exercises and meditation
Breathing exercises and meditation may be very useful solutions to help with your sleep after meniscus surgery.
First because, as explained in The Atlantic, a number of studies have now found that “by activating and reinforcing some areas of the brain used in pain processing, meditation has the overall effect of helping to reduce pain intensity in patients. Other theories on how meditation helps pain exist, including that it decreases stress, which in turn decreases pain. Scientists explained that meditation has [been] known to be helpful for a while, but [they have] shown through [two different studies] that it takes much less time to see results than previously thought.”
Indeed, it has now been concluded that meditation can even be helpful to reduce pain, even for beginners. As, obviously, pain can keep you from getting a good night’s sleep after your meniscus surgery, it may be worthwhile to try meditation in order to reduce pain. This is even more true if you intend to go off your pain medication after surgery quite quickly.
Additionally, meditation is also helpful for sleep in general. Plenty of meditation phone applications and guides have been published throughout the last few years so you should surely be able to easily find one that fits your needs. Headspace, one of the most popular meditation apps currently available, have written a piece about sleep and meditation here, which we encourage you to take a look at.
As they put it, “In scientific terms, meditation helps lower the heart rate by igniting the parasympathetic nervous system and encouraging slower breathing, thereby increasing the prospect of a quality night’s sleep.”
This is great for anyone trying to improve or facilitate their sleep especially after meniscus surgery.
To Wrap it Up
In conclusion, while you may find it harder to sleep after going through meniscus surgery, there definitely are solutions out there that should make the transition more easily. Generally, though, always remember to follow the advice given by your doctor, and to listen to the needs of your body.