Subject: Post operative leg cramps following knee replacement surgery…
My 80 year old mother, a life long right leg amputee, had knee replacement surgery about 6 weeks ago. While she is mobile and is celebrating her increasing accomplishments, she is suffering from reoccurring leg cramps in her calf muscle (which she refers to as a “charley horse”). She describes the leg cramps as being very painful (note: she has a very high tolerance for pain, so I believe her). Her doctors have said that they have never heard of post operative leg cramps, and so, have not offered any possible solutions.
As a runner, I start eating bananas when I get cramps, but she is allergic to them… so this is not a possibility.
Questions: Have you ever heard of this situation following knee replacement surgery? Do you have any suggestions?
Thanks (in advance),
Answer to consider:
Historically when a person was having surgery they would put a tens unit on them immediately post operatively and at first the assumptions were the stimulation would:
1. Lessen need for pain meds
2. In abdominal area would reduce “gas”, therefore less pain.
Over time it became apparent:
1. For most surgeries not worth the time, hassle, cost to use tens when drugs did the job and patient only used for couple days in most cases
2. The “less gas” was probably the result of restoring muscle tone by accelerating tissue repair with the electricity. The muscle had been literally “cut” and the stimulation we know accelerates tissue repair.
In your Mom’s case what may be happening is she is “favoring” her leg, due to the pain from the knee, and has put additional stress on the calf muscle not only due to pain but has probably shifted her posture which adds additional stress. Now the issue is not to treat the cramps but to prevent the cramps.
One of reasons tens has helped is it literally reduces the “tenseness, tightness” of the muscles involved and there is less “tightening” of the muscles which often results in “spasms”. One would intervene when it is felt the calf muscles are getting tense and apply the estim then. The estim will literally make the muscle relax and prevent the buildup of lactic acid which is what happens when muscles are in constant tightness. The lactic acid from the fatigue builds up and the result is muscle spasticity or spasms/cramps.
Also before doing any tens have her use warm, MOIST heat to her calf couple times per day to prevent. The moist heat attracts blood which in turn removes the lactic acid that is building up to cause the cramps.
Both of the above methods do not involve drugs and can be done externally so there is or should be no questions on her alertness, drug interactions, dosage etc. Of course the two above will be even better if used conjunctively. When your Mom can, be sure to make sure she is inverting her foot to stretch those calf muscles and increase the elasticity as long term that is also a solution.