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How to Sleep After Meniscus Surgery (10 Ways)

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  • This article has been medically reviewed by Darshan Shingala (M.D, MPH) – a qualified and practicing medical doctor – for maximum factual accuracy and reliability.

I have had two operations on my right knee to remove torn cartilage over the last few years so I know just how difficult it can be to get to sleep after meniscus surgery due to the pain, swelling, and lack of mobility.

That’s why I asked Dr. Darshan Shingala for his top tips for getting to sleep after meniscus surgery to help you get a better night’s rest than I did after my operations.

So what’s the best way to get to sleep after meniscus surgery?

To get to sleep after meniscus surgery: take doctor prescribed pain medication, apply rest, ice, compression, elevation (RICE); sleep on your back in the zero gravity position to speed up recovery, and use a memory foam mattress to reduce pressure – only use sleep medications as a last resort due to addiction potential.

The rest of this article explains in more detail how to get to sleep after meniscus surgery using 10 different techniques.

Always consult with your own doctor or a qualified medical professional first to ensure that you’re following the treatment plan that’s right for you.

Related: if you’re having trouble getting to sleep then try these 12 relaxation strategies.

10 Ways to Sleep Better After Meniscus Surgery

The meniscus is a crescent-shaped piece of rubbery cartilage that provides cushioning between the thigh bone (the femur) and the shin bone (the tibia) (1).

There are two menisci cartilage in each knee joint, and they primarily act as joint stabilizers and shock absorbers.

The menisci provide added cushioning and support to the joint and are vital for maintaining the overall health of the joint.

In addition to preventing the joint from injuries, they also help in distributing the axial load, increasing the stability of articulation, and provide lubrication and nutrition to the joint (4).

Meniscus Tears Are Common in Athletes, Children, and the Elderly

Meniscus tears are the most common type of traumatic knee injuries, especially among athletes, children, and the elderly.

The meniscus can be torn during physical activities such as kneeling, deep squatting, heavy lifting, hyper-flexion, vigorous twisting, or rotating the knee joint (2).

There are several factors which increase the risk of meniscus tear among the adult population.

For instance, degenerative musculoskeletal changes in the elderly population such as osteoarthritis have been associated with an increased risk of a meniscus tear in many clinical studies (3, 6).

The most common symptoms of a torn meniscus are swelling, tenderness, joint stiffness, localized pain, and a restricted range of joint motion (7).

Surgery Isn’t Always Necessary

The management of meniscus tears may or may not require surgical intervention depending on the locality and severity of the tear (7).

A tear on the outer one-third of the meniscus may heal without surgery because this area has a rich blood supply and the blood cells help in the regeneration of the meniscal tissue.

But, a tear on the inner two-thirds of the meniscus usually mandates a surgical intervention as this area has a limited blood supply.

However, if a meniscus tear is left untreated, it can restrict the basic lifestyle of the patient and the patient may experience difficulties in performing routine activities.

In severe cases, it may contribute to the development of arthritis or other bone and joint-related diseases.

Also, moving around with a torn meniscus may pull fragments of the cartilage into the knee joint which may lead to serious complications requiring significant surgical intervention in the future.

The best course of management for a meniscus tear is determined based on the level, location, size, and degree of the tear.

It is also based on the condition of the meniscus, the age of the patient, and the level of physical activity.

The most common treatment approaches are physiotherapy, knee thermoscope, and surgical intervention.

Surgical fixation can be performed via an arthroscopic intervention or an open procedure.

Patients are generally advised to engage in minimal physical therapy during the post-surgical period to strengthen their knee joint, regain the range of motion and enhance the mobility of the joint (9).

In most cases, health care providers suggest an amalgamation of the aforementioned options for effective management of the meniscal tear.

Recovery From Meniscus Surgery Varies from 3 Weeks to 3 Months

Usually, most patients are expected to recover completely after a meniscus tear surgery but the recovery period is lengthy and may last from three weeks up to three months.

However, it is important to note that the recovery time depends on multiple factors which vary from patient to patient like age, co-morbid medical conditions, level of injury, and type of surgery.

All patients are advised to consult a physiotherapist after the surgery to receive a case-specific recovery plan and a tailored program of rehabilitation exercises.

The main aim of the individual program is to gradually recover the knee joint with its full range of movement.

A targeted plan will also help to reduce muscle spasms, regain strength, increase stability, and form proper alignment of the knee joint during the recovery process.

The post-surgical management of a meniscus tear is of utmost importance in order to regain total joint mobility and adequate cartilage recovery.

Sleep Can Be Disrupted After Meniscus Surgery

Along with physiotherapy and drugs, a restful and good night’s sleep is crucial for a complete recovery.

However, sleeping after meniscus surgery can often be quite challenging due to the long recovery period after the operation.

In addition to the long recovery period, patients often struggle to find a comfortable position to sleep in.

Moreover, getting adjusted to the new sleeping routine post-surgery is also quite difficult for most patients.

Patients are encouraged to use a mixture of the following tips to see what works best for them in order to get a comfortable sleep after the meniscus surgery.

Please be informed that the tips listed in this article are not a substitute for professional medical advice.

It is strictly recommended that you refer to your health care provider prior to adopting any of the following tips.

The following 10 recommendations can be very effective in obtaining a good night’s sleep during the recovery period after meniscus surgery:

1: Take Prescribed Pain Medications on Time

It is strongly advised that you take your prescribed pain medications on time in order to ease the postoperative pain, reduce the inflammation around the incision, and sleep well at night.

In general, your prescription for the management of an operated meniscal tear would include a pain-relieving drug which can be either a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen, or a narcotic analgesic such as oxycodone.

These medications can have different routes of administration and can be prescribed either for oral consumption or topical application or both.

It is essential that you follow the prescription properly and contact your health care provider immediately if you experience any allergic reaction or if you notice that your pain either gets worse or fails to subside.

2: Consult With Your Doctor

To determine the progress of healing and estimate the effect of post-surgical management, it is important that you regularly follow-up with your health care provider or surgeon.

During these follow-up meetings, it is crucial that you address any complaints or difficulties which you may be experiencing while sleeping after your surgery.

Your doctor would be able to identify the cause of your complaint and guide you accordingly.

Your doctor may also make additions or alterations to your prescription which will help you manage your pain adequately and obtain a better sleep to ensure complete recovery.

3: Keep the Bandages Clean and Dry

Before going to sleep, please make sure to check your wound dressing.

It is important to ensure that the bandages covering the surgically operated area are always clean and dry.

The wound dressing should be hygienic and free of moisture at all times, especially while sleeping.

It is advised to regularly change the dressing and redress with fresh bandages each time.

You must make sure that your bandage is dry before you go to sleep so that you can prevent unnecessary bacterial overgrowth and avoid the development of infection due to wound contamination.

It would be a good idea to make it a routine to clean your wound with an antiseptic solution every night and apply a fresh dressing bandage before going to bed.

4: Apply Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (RICE)

R.I.C.E. stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

It is likely that your doctor will ask you to practice R.I.C.E during the post-surgical period because it has been shown that R.I.C.E can significantly speed up the healing of an injury.

It would be a good idea to keep the knee joint well elevated above the level of your heart while you are resting on the bed and also while you are sleeping.

It has been reported that elevation of the knee joint can substantially help to reduce edema, redness, and inflammation.

Before going to bed, you can also place an ice pack on your knee for up to 20 minutes.

Icing the wound can temporarily numb the injured area and provide pain relief.

It is important to remember that your operated leg should always be elevated before applying ice at least during the first 72 hours immediately after surgery.

In addition to elevation and icing, it is also recommended to keep your knee joint immobilized, obtain adequate rest, and minimize any unnecessary physical activity involving the movement of the knee joint in order to avoid further injuries.

To keep the knee joint stable, you can apply compression forces using a brace or a bandage or medical support stockings.

Please do not hesitate to discuss these techniques with your doctor or physiotherapist to educate yourself and optimize your recovery (1, 5).

5: Sleep in a Zero Gravity Chair to Speed Up Recovery

It is crucial to take it easy in the first few days after your surgery and invest in your recovery to achieve optimal results.

If possible, try to sleep in a reclining position.

This can be achieved by sleeping in a zero-gravity reclining chair, recliner couch, or an adjustable bed.

Some studies suggest that sleeping in a reclining position can actually maintain the stability of the operated knee and promote blood circulation to the operated region.

Research shows that reclining can be a good and comfortable sleeping position post-surgery.

It is understandable that it may take some time for you to adjust to a new sleeping position immediately after surgery, hence, it would be a good idea to take short naps in the reclining chair in the initial days of your recovery period and see if this would be a suitable sleeping position for you in the long term (5).

If you’d like to buy an adjustable bed with a zero-gravity setting, then pick from the best adjustable beds to buy online here.

6: Sleep On Your Back

In order to accommodate the postoperative changes in your body, it might be necessary to make some adjustments to your usual sleeping posture.

For instance, you may consider sleeping on your back because research suggests that in general, the supine position is the ideal sleeping position and in the post-op period, sleeping on your back can prevent any unnecessary pressure on your incision.

If you are generally a side-sleeper and are not accustomed to sleeping on your back, you may consider lying down on the side of your non-operated leg.

For additional support, you can place a wedge cushion between your legs to protect, stabilize and elevate your compromised knee.

7: Sleep On a Memory Foam Mattress

It is extremely important to obtain adequate rest to ensure a speedy recovery.

It is advised to sleep on a memory foam mattress and use a knee pillow or leg bolster while sleeping.

In addition to providing extra comfort, there are several other advantages of using a memory foam mattress and a knee pillow or leg bolster during the post-surgical period.

For instance, a memory foam mattress may encourage you to sleep in the supine position and improve the posture of your body whilst also reducing pressure points on the surgery area to reduce pain.

Sleeping with a knee pillow or a leg bolster can provide elevation to the recovering leg, promote blood circulation, reduce inflammation and provide additional support to the operated knee.

8: Minimize Distractions Before Bed

To sleep comfortably, it is recommended to minimize any distractions close to bedtime so that you can get at least an eight-hour-long, uninterrupted, and pleasant sleep.

There can be several disruptors that can interfere with your sleep and you must be mindful of them.

For instance, a loud and noisy sleeping environment, excessively bright or flashy bedroom lights, and extensive use of electronic devices before going to bed can hinder your sleep.

You should ensure that your bedroom is silent, calm, and dimly lit.

This will help you relax and fall asleep quickly.

You should also avoid using your phone, laptop, tablet, or other electronic gadgets closer to bedtime because the blue light emitted from these devices can hamper your sleep.

It is understandable that you can only minimize distractions and not completely eliminate them.

In this situation, you can try to use some additional sleep-aids such as a pair of noise-canceling headphones to mute the background noises, a sleeping eye mask for an undisturbed shuteye, or a mobile phone app to monitor your gadget usage and schedule your screen time.

Try listening to the relaxing sleep music below with your earphones in:

Relaxing Sleep Music • Deep Sleeping Music, Relaxing Music, Stress Relief, Meditation Music (Flying)

9: Keep the Room Temperature Between 60-67F

Research suggests that the ideal temperature of the bedroom should be between 16 to 19 degrees Celsius (60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit) because it is lower than our core body temperature and it helps us to fall asleep quickly.

If the bedroom temperature is higher or lower than this recommended temperature range, then you can feel a little bit restless, and it may be difficult for you to fall asleep.

A study conducted in 2012 reported that the thermal environment of your bedroom may be one of the most paramount factors in achieving a good quality sleep at night.

The link between the thermal environment and the quality of your sleep can be explained by the association of sleep to the body’s homeostasis and circadian rhythm.

Thus, you must make sure to adjust your thermostat settings to enjoy a restful sleep.

In reference to your body’s circadian rhythm, you must establish a sleep schedule and try to go to the bed at the same time each night, and also strictly adhere to that schedule.

These basic tips are the key elements in sleep hygiene that are often overlooked by most people (8, 10).

More sleep hygiene tips are available in this article about getting to sleep with OCD thoughts.

10: Use Sleep Medications With Caution

It is most likely that a combination of the above-mentioned tips will work for you.

However, if you continue to struggle to get to sleep after meniscus surgery, you may consult your doctor and have a detailed discussion on whether taking prescribed sleep medications is an option for you.

Some drugs such as melatonin and zolpidem can help patients improve the quality of their sleep, especially during the recovery period after surgery.

However, it is important to note that these drugs can be habit-forming and even addictive for some people.

So, it is crucial that any form of sleep-inducing drug must be taken as and when prescribed by a certified physician only.

It is imperative that you follow your doctor’s instructions on how to consume these medications.

In general, most of these drugs adversely react with alcohol, thus, it is advised to avoid the consumption of alcohol while taking any form of sleep medications.

Avoid Sleep Medications if Possible

Whilst doctor-prescribed pain medications are one of the most effective ways to get to sleep after meniscus surgery, it’s advised that you avoid taking prescription sleep medications if possible due to the potential for addiction.

Instead, focus on using the RICE principle to reduce swelling and pain, and sleeping in a comfortable position on your back – make use of a memory foam mattress, adjustable bed, or knee pillow if you have one.

An adjustable bed is an excellent investment if you have conditions like back pain, acid reflux, or sleep apnea because being able to elevate the angle of the bed can provide symptomatic relief.

Click here to see the best adjustable beds and mattresses to buy now.


Sources and References

(1) Mayo Clinic – Torn Meniscus. Accessed 24/2/21.

(2) NCBI – Meniscal Tears: Current Understanding, Diagnosis, and Management. Accessed 24/2/21.

(3) PubMed – Management of Traumatic Meniscal Tear and Degenerative Meniscal lesions. Save the Meniscus. Accessed 24/2/21.

(4) PubMed – The Knee Meniscus: Structure-Function, Pathophysiology, Current Repair Techniques, And Prospects For Regeneration. Accessed 24/2/21.

(5) PubMed – Knee Joint changes after Meniscectomy. Accessed 24/2/21.

(6) PubMed – The Role of the Meniscus in Knee Osteoarthritis: A Cause or Consequence? Accessed 24/2/21.

(7) PubMed – Meniscal Tears. Accessed 24/2/21.

(8) NCBI – Effects Of Thermal Environment On Sleep And Circadian Rhythm. Accessed 24/2/21.

(9) PubMed – Comparison Of Clinical, MRI And Arthroscopic Assessments Of Chronic ACL Injuries, Meniscal Tears And Cartilage Defects. Accessed 24/2/21.

(10) PubMed – Effects Of Humid Heat Exposure In Later Sleep Segments On Sleep Stages And Body Temperature In Humans. Accessed 24/2/21.

Medical Disclaimer

No part of this article or website provides medical advice – always consult with your doctor or a qualified medical professional for help with your specific condition.

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Main image: ‘F022/6031’ by Science Photo Library – used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.

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