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How to Sleep After Meniscus Surgery: Tips for Better Rest

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Written by: Alex Savy
Read 9 minLast updated on October 13, 2021

Getting meniscus surgery can cause a lot of discomfort afterward.

Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that users have to forget about restful sleep.

This guide will teach readers how to sleep after meniscus surgery comfortably and enjoy quality rest every night.

Meniscus Surgery Explained (Plus What to Expect Afterward)

The meniscus is the cartilage located in the knee that serves as a cushion absorbing shock to the knee. Surgery is typically recommended when there is a tear in the meniscus. Depending on the case, it usually involves either a partial or total removal of the injured meniscus (1). 

Now, recovery after meniscus surgery may take around a month. However, depending on the surgery type, the healing process may take a few months (2). A total meniscus removal usually takes less time to heal than a repair surgery.

Naturally, post-surgery recovery is usually accompanied by pain. Additionally, the knee is going to feel stiff and may be hard to straighten (3). Both of these surgery aftereffects can make it hard for patients to sleep well. Pain is enough of a disruptor on its own, but dealing with an immobile knee can make it nearly impossible to find a comfortable sleep position. 

“You may also be spending a lot of time in bed while recovering from surgery, as it is recommended to only walk when necessary with a brace for at least a month post-surgery” says Debra Henline Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI.

How Meniscus Surgery Can Affect Sleep

Dealing with post-surgery pain (and often stress) can decrease one’s sleep quality significantly. Knee pain and inability to find a comfortable position usually lead to difficulty falling asleep, frequent nighttime awakenings, and rising too early in the morning.

And even though these issues are likely to linger only during the recovery period, they can affect one’s overall health during that time. For instance, even short-term sleep deprivation is linked to mood changes, trouble concentrating, and increased stress levels (4).

In the long term, sleep issues may increase one’s risk of developing obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, inflammation, hypertension, and more (5). That is why patients need to do everything they can to sleep well after meniscus surgery.

Another reason why those recovering from meniscus surgery need to pay special attention to getting proper rest is linked to the recovery process. The thing is, poor sleep quality can slow down the healing process and increase one’s pain sensitivity (6). So, patients can easily get stuck in this vicious circle where post-surgery pain isn’t letting them sleep well, and the sleep issues cause delayed recovery.

What Is the Best Sleep Position After Meniscus Surgery?

To sleep well after meniscus surgery and get enough rest, patients should find the best (and the most comfortable) sleep position.

Now, lying on one’s back is considered the healthiest option overall (7). This sleeping style creates the most optimal conditions to encourage healthy spinal alignment. Additionally, this sleeping position would minimize potential knee disturbances and tension (as the knee can rest straight and without being pressed into the mattress).

However, in this seemingly perfect position, patients need to follow some rules. Keeping one's knee straight is vital, so sleepers shouldn't place a pillow under their knees when sleeping on the back (8). Instead, they can elevate the leg (or both of them) by placing something under the calf or the ankle. You can use a pillow or two, a bunch of folded towels, or a folded blanket, whichever isavailable. 

Now, if you don’t feel comfortable lying on your back, you can also try side sleeping. In this case, it is crucial to lie on the non-operated side. Try placing a pillow between your knees to prevent the aching knee from crashing into the mattress's surface or the other knee (9). 

As for stomach sleepers, they will need to change their habits while recovering. Stomach sleeping after meniscus surgery will put a lot of pressure on the affected knee. Naturally, this can cause increased pain plus might force the incision to open up. So, while healing after surgery, stomach sleepers need to adopt a new sleeping style, whether it’s back or side sleeping.

Extra Tips on How to Sleep After Meniscus Surgery

Comfort during sleep after meniscus surgery can be tricky to achieve, but it’s not impossible. Here are the additional tools users can try to sleep more restfully while recovering:

  • A proper mattress. A mattress can play a huge role in one’s comfort, sleep quality, and recovery. Users need to keep in mind that the best mattress is the one that corresponds with their sleeping style. Now, as resting after meniscus surgery calls for back sleeping, it also requires a medium to medium-firm mattress. And for those who can’t give up sleeping on their side, a softer mattress would work better. Many users prefer memory foam models, as they can mold to the sleeper’s body and reduce tension effectively. That being said, memory foam can feel restricting. Thus, such mattresses can be a bit challenging to get out of. A good alternative would be a hybrid mattress with memory foam comfort layers. It will deliver the needed pressure alleviation while the coil core will boost one’s movement when getting up. Latex mattresses can also do the trick, but they tend to be quite expensive.
  • Relaxation techniques. Even 30 minutes of relaxation before bed can ease stress and help users sleep better. For instance, you can take a warm shower (which might also soothe the pain) (10), read a book, meditate, practice breathing exercises, and so on. The key is to make one’s bedtime ritual something to look forward to (in other words, something they enjoy doing).
  • A reclining chair or an adjustable bed frame. Some recliners and many adjustable frames come with a zero-gravity mode. This setting usually helps promote healthy blood circulation during sleep (11), which can be very beneficial when recovering after surgery. Additionally, sleeping in a zero-gravity mode typically results in fast tension relief. Naturally, this could lead to enhanced comfort and improved sleep quality.
  • Clean and dry bandages. It goes without saying that patients need to follow their doctor’s recommendations and change their bandages regularly. Keeping them clean can protect users from infection, plus make them feel more comfortable during sleep.
  • Building a good sleep schedule. Usually, people feel tired after meniscus surgery. Drowsiness is a normal aftermath of anesthesia (12), but it often can cause patients to take extra naps. While there’s nothing wrong with those, users need to be careful and make sure their naps don’t last for too long (up to 30 minutes is preferable). Additionally, it’s better to reserve napping for the first half of the day (before 3 pm) (13). The thing is, extra-long naps can disrupt one’s natural sleep and wake cycles, which can lead to sleep offset and reduced sleep quality overall. That’s why sleep after meniscus surgery has to be properly scheduled. Going to bed and waking up at the same time can help users establish a natural rhythm, in which it will be easier for them to fall asleep and wake up. Additionally, they might want to get a lot of daylight exposure if possible. Dimming the lights in the evening can be very helpful as well. Light therapy is very beneficial for sleep, as we are wired to follow the natural changes of light in the environment (14).
  • Ice packs. Applying ice packs before bed can help users reduce swelling, which often aids pain alleviation as well (15). Naturally, with pain levels down, it can be much easier to fall asleep.

F.A.Q.

Can I bend my knee during sleep after meniscus surgery?

No, you should sleep with their knees straight after meniscus surgery for optimal recovery.

Can I sleep on my side after meniscus surgery?

Yes, it is okay to sleep on one side after meniscus surgery, but you need to lie on the non-operated side. It’s also better to put a pillow between the knees to prevent them from crashing into each other. That being said, back sleeping is preferable after meniscus surgery.

Can I sleep on my back with a pillow under my knees?

No, because placing a pillow under one’s knees would cause them to bend (which shouldn’t happen after meniscus surgery). Instead, sleepers can place a pillow under the calf or the ankle.

Wrapping Up

Meniscus surgery recovery isn’t easy. Especially when the sore knee can easily ruin one’s sleep

However, sleeping well after meniscus surgery is possible. Users just need to find a comfortable position, practice good sleep hygiene, relax more, and make sure their mattress is suited for their sleeping style.

How was your experience after meniscus surgery? Or are you still preparing for it? Let us know in the comments!

References:

  1. Jonathan Cluett (December 04, 2020). Meniscectomy Surgery: Everything You Need to Know. Retrieved from https://www.verywellhealth.com/arthroscopic-surgery-for-torn-meniscus-2549899
  2. Tyler Wheeler (May 12, 2021). Do I Need Surgery for a Meniscus Tear? Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/knee-pain/meniscus-tear-surgery
  3. Daniel Baumstark (May 21, 2012). Meniscus Surgery: What Can I Expect? Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/daniel-baumstark-physical-injury-and-rehab/meniscus-surgery-what-can-i-expect/
  4. Goran Medic, Micheline Wille, and Michiel EH Hemels (May 19, 2017). Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449130/
  5. Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School (December 18, 2007). Sleep and Disease Risk. Retrieved from https://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences/sleep-and-disease-risk
  6. Sanketh Rampes, Katie Ma, Yasmin Amy Divecha, Azeem Alam, and Daqing Ma (July 2020). Postoperative sleep disorders and their potential impacts on surgical outcomes. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7386412/
  7. Jenna Birch (September 30, 2021). Why sleeping on your back or side is the best position — and tips for a more comfortable sleep. Retrieved from https://www.insider.com/best-sleeping-position
  8. Dr. Mia S. Hagen (n.d.). Initial Postoperative Instructions. Retrieved from https://orthop.washington.edu/sites/default/files/files/ACL%20%26%20MENISCUS%20Postop%20Instructions_Hagen.pdf
  9. Ruben Castaneda and Michael O. Schroeder (April 15, 2021). Is Your Knee Pain Worse At Night? 6 Ways to Improve Pain. Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/conditions/pain-management/knee-pain/articles/knee-pain-at-night
  10. Healthline Editorial Team (April 13, 2020). How to Ease Knee Pain and Sleep Tight Through the Night. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/osteoarthritis/sleep-better-knee-pain
  11. Health Research Funding (n.d.). 16 Pros and Cons of Adjustable Beds. Retrieved from https://healthresearchfunding.org/16-pros-and-cons-of-adjustable-beds/
  12. Kate Leslie and Megan Allen (May 18, 2017). Health Check: why can you feel groggy days after an operation? Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/health-check-why-can-you-feel-groggy-days-after-an-operation-74989
  13. Adrienne Santos-Longhurst (March 19, 2019). Everything You Need to Know About the Benefits of Napping. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-should-i-nap
  14. Christine Blume, Corrado Garbazza, and Manuel Spitschan (August 20, 2019). Effects of light on human circadian rhythms, sleep and mood. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6751071/
  15. University of Rochester Medical Center, Health Encyclopedia (n.d.). Cold Therapy (Cryotherapy) for Pain Management. Retrieved from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=134&contentid=95

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