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Immediate Relief After Foot Surgery and Understanding the Post Op Phase

Greetings, warriors of recovery! If you're reading this, changes are you either recently had surgery or you are considering having foot surgery in the future. This post serves to give you some pointers on what you can do immediately following surgery to help mitigate your pain and make what is certainly an uncomfortable time into a more bearable one.

Not all foot surgeries have the same recovery

The recovery process following foot surgery is highly individualized and can vary significantly based on the type of procedure performed, the complexity of the surgery, and the patient's overall health. Foot surgeries encompass a broad spectrum, ranging from relatively minor procedures, such as bunionectomy or ingrown toenail removal, to more complex surgeries like joint arthroplasty or tendon reconstruction. Factors such as the extent of tissue trauma, the involvement of multiple structures, and the necessity for weight-bearing restrictions all contribute to the diversity in recovery timelines. Age also plays a factor in healing as children and young adults tend to heal faster than those in their 50's, 60's and 70's. Additionally, pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, bad habits such as smoking or vaping, the patient's adherence to post-operative care instructions play crucial roles in determining the speed and success of recovery. As I tell my patient all the time "Fast is slow and slow is fast". If you try and progress yourself too quickly you will have more pain and swelling along with increased risk of injury and possible need for repeat surgery. As a result, each foot surgery demands a tailored approach to rehabilitation and recuperation, ensuring that patients receive personalized care based on the specifics of their surgical intervention. Be sure you have a clear understanding from the doctor on the expected post op course and adhere to the restrictions at each phase.

Once you are in the initial days post-surgery, it's time to focus on mitigating pain and swelling for a more comfortable and speedy recovery. Let's dive into some actionable steps you can take right now to ensure your foot healing process is as smooth as a country morning.

1. Elevation, Elevation, Elevation:

  • The biggest thing that causes pain after lower extremity surgery is not the skin cut, is not a bone cut, it is the swelling. The more swelling you have the more pain you will have. Once more, once your foot becomes swollen it takes time for the swelling to go down all the while leaving you in pain. simply taking "pain medication" usually is not enough to completely off set pain from swelling and so you need to ELEVATE ELEVATE ELEVATE. Elevate your foot above heart level as much as possible. This simple act assists in reducing swelling and enhances blood circulation, expediting the healing process.

2. Ice to the Rescue:

  • Apply ice packs to the surgical area for 15-20 minutes every hour or so during these first crucial days is always sound advice. But what do you do if the dressing is 1 inch thick? Very little of the cold will actually make it to the foot if you try to ice this way and so I recommended placing the ice behind your knee. On the back side of your knee you will feel two tendons with a soft spot in-between. In this soft spot a single large artery (popliteal artery) runs fairly close to the skin and divides just below the knee into all of the arteries that supply your leg and foot. The cold will help constrict blood vessels, alleviate pain, and keep swelling at bay. Be sure you wrap the ice or use an ice pack and do not put ice directly on the skin.

3. Compression is Key:

  • Embrace compression by gently wrapping the foot with a bandage or wearing compression socks. This aids in reducing fluid buildup, offering additional support during these initial days. If you are -reapplying an outer stretch bandage make sure you roll it on gently and do not apply stretch.

4. Take Your Pain Medication as Prescribed:

  • Don't be a hero – take the pain medication your healthcare provider has prescribed. Consistency is crucial, especially in these early days when managing pain effectively promotes a more comfortable recovery. Remember pain meds typically cannot compensate for a lack of elevation especially in the first 48 hours!

5. Prop Those Pillows:

  • Make your bed a sanctuary of healing by propping pillows under your foot as you rest. This position ensures optimal comfort, reduces pressure, and aids in minimizing swelling.

6. Stay Hydrated:

  • Water is your new best friend. Staying hydrated supports overall healing and helps flush out any medications from your system. Aim for at least eight cups a day.

7. Mindful Movement:

  • Gently wiggle your toes and perform any range-of-motion exercises recommended by your healthcare provider (if any). This promotes blood circulation and prevents stiffness without overexerting yourself. Blood flow does rely on movement to some degree and so flexing your knee a few times once per hour will also help keep blood circulating and reduce your risk for blood clots.

8. Dietary Support:

  • Make sure you are eating well during this time. Your body is having to heal many structures at this time and it needs to building blocks to do so.

9. Seek Comfort in Soft Surroundings:

  • Opt for soft and cushioned surfaces to minimize impact on your foot. Surround yourself with pillows, blankets, and supportive cushions to create a cozy and healing environment.

10. Communicate with Your Healthcare Team:

  • If you notice any unusual pain, increased swelling, or have concerns, reach out to your healthcare team promptly. Open communication ensures you're on the right track to recovery.

Remember, these early days are about giving your body the TLC it needs. Be patient, listen to your body, and follow the guidance of your healthcare provider. Each step you take towards self-care now will pave the way for a more comfortable and successful recovery. Wishing you a swift return to your vibrant self!

Post op foot bandage
AI generated image of what it thinks a post op foot looks like. I though it was amusing I hope you do too.

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