Knee surgery recovery can be tough. Weakened muscles, debilitating effects, physical therapy, dressing care and pain management all require attention.
Following rehab after surgery, walking with crutches for weeks, maybe even wear a brace and months later you may still not be the old you. If you have been in this situation you will know how quickly your leg muscles deteriorate. Regaining your strength takes time and effort.
Whether it’s a minor injury, a reconstruction surgery, or a total knee replacement, in all cases, the key towards faster healing is to adhere to your medications and regular therapy. And to optimize your nutritional intake. Now is the moment you can use all the help you can get right?
Certain types of foods and supplements actually help speed up your knee surgery recovery.
Here are some of the best dietary supplements you can take.
The most common knee surgery types are meniscus repair, torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) repair, plica surgery and knee replacement.
Amino Acids reduce muscle loss
Muscle loss (atrophy) is a common problem after knee replacement surgery. Essential amino acid (EAA) supplements help reduce muscle wastage. Which is why, among all the supplements, amino acids receive the highest regard when it comes to knee surgery recovery.
Based on a study conducted at the University of Oregon, patients who took the eight essential amino acids regularly have experienced faster healing after their knee replacement surgery.
Amino acids have the primary effect of minimizing muscle loss which knee surgery patients often suffer from. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein which is needed for tissue repair and muscle building.
Twenty grams of essential amino acids taken twice daily for a week before and for two weeks after knee-replacement surgeries helped 16 patients, mean age 69, recover faster and with much less muscle atrophy than a control group ingesting a placebo. Source, University of Oregon.
The supplement used in the clinical trial contained a mix of the following, rapidly absorbed raw essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, lycine, histidine, methiodine, phenylalanine, threonine and valine.
Assistant professor and research team leader Hans Dreyer;
“I was surprised by the findings, it really does help patients. Ultimately this is perhaps a way to reduce health-care costs and improve quality of life.”
Your body does not produce essential amino acids. They are present in dietary protein such as eggs, meat and soy or amino acid powders.
Vitamin C & E rich foods or supplements
When it comes to vitamins, the most helpful for your recovery are C and E. Vitamin C has multiple benefits: it helps boost your immune system, serves as an antioxidant, and, an anti-inflammatory agent that helps speed up wound healing.
It has also been noted that vitamin C aids in bone and cartilage formation. On the other hand, Vitamin E works hand-in-hand with ascorbic acid in reducing inflammation. It also promotes faster wound healing and improves muscle strength around the knee or area operated.
Of course, vitamins C and E can come from a variety of fruits and vegetables. But the capsule and tablet supplements usually contain higher and more concentrated forms.
At the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University they set out to promote optimal health through cutting-edge nutrition research. In relation to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee surgery the institute notes:
Vitamin E and C supplementation lowers the increase of an anti-inflammatory cytokine (interleukin-10 or IL-10) and stabilizes the depression of a pro-to-anti-inflammatory cytokine ratio (i.e., IL-6:IL-10) immediately following surgery.
The institute also discovered that leg strength after ACL reconstruction surgery could be probably be improved by vitamin E and C supplementation.
Flavonoids and other antioxidants
You get flavonoids or bioflavonoids by consuming the different types of berries, grapes, and certain types of fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids are antioxidants which help reduce inflammation, prevent cellular damage, and promote healing on the cellular level. It also helps in the healing of blood vessels within or around the knee area after the surgery.
This is a popular and potent antioxidant commonly used to enhance post-surgical healing. According to many users it’s the only joint support supplement that actually works.
The Cissus quadrangularis extract supports joints and bone recovery, acts as a painkiller, easens physical therapy, thus speeding overall recovery.
Pharmaceutical grade Primaforce Cissus capsules are often used to reduce connective tissue inflammation too.
Cissus quadrangularis was already decribed in the ancient, traditional Hindu medicine system Ayurveda as a potent herb able to hasten bone healing.
Also modern studies show Cissus quandrangularis to enhance bone healing among other healing processes. The botanical contains vitamins and steroids as well as the anabolic steroidal principle from Cissus quandrangularis influences:
“early regeneration of all connective tissues involved in the healing and quicker mineralization of callus”. (Callus is hard tissue formation especially in case of new tissue formed over a wound.)
Read Amazon reviews about user experiences with this supplement after surgery.
Potentially effective supplements
The following supplements could be helpful in post-surgical knee recovery however there is insufficient scientific evidence to call these substances proven effective.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate
A supplement occasionally recommended by health experts ise glucosamine and chondroitin. Most of the capsules you can buy on the market are usually a combination of these two.
These supplements are commonly used to treat or improve symptoms of arthritis or osteoarthritis and have also been noted to prevent knee problems. Clinical evidence for these purposes does exist. Whether it actualy helps in post-knee surgery healing remains to be seen. It does show to be a potent painkiller and less harsh alternative to NSAIDs.
Glucosamine and chondroitin are conventionally known to heal and repair knee cartilage. But compared to amino acids where the benefits are already conclusive, the medical industry is still divided when it comes to the use of glucosamine and chondroitin for knee surgery recovery.
Still, these compounds are often recommended by doctors to improve joint function and mobility. They aren’t directly proven assistive in the post-op knee healing process but they are very helpful to a lot of people with knee complaints. More info about glucosamine and post-op recovery.
Zinc is a good partner of Vitamin C in boosting the immune system. Additionally, studies show it also hastens wound healing and cellular repair or growth. Foods containing hefty amounts of zinc include seafood like oysters, nuts and seeds, chicken, pork, and other meats.
Zinc is a potent catalyst of wound healing and zinc deficiency may be a common cause of delayed tissue repair.
Calcium alone is not sufficient in bone healing and formation. The process is usually aided by Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps in better calcium absorption. As we all know, this hormone is produced through direct sunlight exposure. For the northern regions where sunlight is scarce, people simply take Vitamin D supplements.
Other, ‘anecdotal’ supplements
People on bodybuilding and medical forums often ask which supplements may help them heal faster after surgery. Here are a few supplements that are commonly mentioned as helpful. Do not that these dietary aids are not proven effective by science, they are just claimed by many people to have helped them recover.
- Animal Flex, a so called ‘core supplement’ containing nutrients your body needs on a daily basis for extra joint support. Especially popular among athletes and bodybuilders.
- fish oil,
- Arnica Montana (mainly to reduce swelling) (some studies on efficacy exist)
General nutritional advice
A healthy, well-balanced diet is essential for speedy recovery. Make sure to get enough fiber in your diet. Analgesic medication (pain killers) such as codeine could make you constipated. Talk to your doctor if this is the case.
In case of elective surgery you can take supplements prior to the operation. This is especially effective in case of dietary deficiencies but taking certain vitamins such as vitamin C seems helpful in general.
Proper nutrition and avoiding nutritional deficiencies can help ward off viruses and infections and boost your immune system. I myself like to incorporate various herbs into may daily diet. Read more about herbs after surgery.
Even if the above mentioned foods and supplements are generally safe, it is still recommended to consult your doctor or surgeon to prevent possible interactions with the drugs you are currently taking. Of course, getting the above nourishments by consuming direct food sources is the safest way to go.