Leg swelling after surgery, especially lower extremity surgery, is common. It can result in questions and concerns from the patient:
Is this swelling normal?
Swelling is normal after surgery. As the body begins healing itself, thousands of cells are sent to the affected body part. This is part of the first stage of healing called the inflammatory phase. The influx of all of these cells to the area causes more swelling. In the case of lower extremity surgery, more swelling occurs because the leg is dependent, that is, well below the level of the heart. Gravity causes even more fluid to go to the leg.
Why is my leg more swollen than it was while I was in the hospital?
After joint replacement, it can be normal to have an increase in leg swelling after leaving the hospital. While a patient is in the hospital, most of their time is spent in bed or in a chair. There is an entire nursing staff devoted to helping the patient. When patients go home they start to spend more time on their feet. Meals must be prepared, post-operative exercises must be performed. This results in more time with the leg in a dependent position and more swelling of the operative extremity. This swelling can be concerning, but it typically does not result in more pain. If patients experience an increase in pain along with the swelling they should contact their surgeon’s office.