5 possible causes of shin and ankle pain after a knee replacement

When you have persistent or worsening knee pain, it’s possible that you may undergo surgery. Knee replacements have become one of the most common types of surgical procedures, with more than 750,000 occurring every year in the U.S. But the pain doesn’t immediately stop afterward.

Every type of medical procedure can come with side effects, especially pain in the surrounding areas. When it comes to knee replacements, it’s not uncommon to experience shin and ankle pain afterward. By learning about the potential reasons for the ache, you can learn about the best ways to treat it.

We’ll talk about the basics of knee replacement surgery, as well as potential reasons why you could be feeling shin and ankle pain following the procedure. Then we’ll discuss how physical therapy can help alleviate it.

What to know about knee replacement surgery

Knee arthroplasty is also known as a knee replacement. It’s a surgical procedure that involves removing worn-out or damaged parts of the knee and replacing them with artificial parts. The parts are made out of plastic or metal. 

While knee arthroplasty often refers to a total knee replacement, there’s also a partial knee replacement. In a total knee replacement, the damaged cartilage or bone is replaced, including ligaments. Only a portion is removed during a partial knee replacement.

Knee replacement surgery is often recommended if:

  • You have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the knee.
  • You’re having pain that isn’t alleviated by other treatments.
  • Your knee pain is preventing you from completing daily activities.

5 reasons you may be experiencing shin and ankle pain after a knee replacement

It takes an average of six weeks to return to your regular activities following a knee replacement. During the recovery period, it’s not unusual to feel stiffness and pain. The pain is often felt around the surgical area. But it’s also possible to experience shin and ankle pain after a knee replacement. 

Here are some potential reasons for the pain:

  • Change in ankle position — A total knee replacement involves an external rotation in the axial plane. This plane divides the knee into top and bottom parts. It’s rotated in order to put the kneecap, or patella, into the femoral groove to provide stability to the patella. The adjustments in the femoral and tibial components impact the shinbone rotation and change the position of your ankle.
  • Plantar fasciitis — Since the biomechanics of the ankle joint are adjusted during a total knee replacement, it’s possible for the heel bone to stiffen up. The stiffness ends up causing pain in your midfoot and forefoot, which can contribute to plantar fasciitis. The tissue between the toes and heel bone, known as the plantar fascia, can become inflamed.
  • Change in gait — Following a total knee replacement, you’re going to experience a bit of stiffness and pain, which often results in you trying to adjust your gait to reduce the discomfort. When you try to change your gait, your shin and ankle may experience pain due to the stress of bearing additional weight.
  • Inflammation — Postoperative swelling and inflammation are common following a knee replacement. The inflammation often affects the knee’s neighboring areas, including the shin, resulting in painful swelling. 
  • Scar tissue — When you have tissue that’s been impacted by surgery, your body’s immediate response is to cover the area with collagen and cells, known as scar tissue. You’ll have scar tissue that continues to build up following surgery, causing painful tightness that affects the knee as well as the shin. 

How physical therapy can help shin and ankle pain after knee replacement surgery

Physical therapy plays a vital role in recovery and rehabilitation after knee replacement surgery. A physical therapist can help you get used to moving with your new knee, strengthening the affected muscles and restoring your mobility. They can also help you manage your pain for all affected areas, including the shin and ankle.

Your physical therapist will determine the cause of your pain before designing a treatment plan for your particular needs and physical abilities. The chosen techniques will also depend on how much you’ve progressed during recovery and rehabilitation.

Here are a few ways that a physical therapist can help alleviate shin and ankle pain after knee replacement surgery:

  • Soft tissue mobilization — A common manual therapy technique used for postoperative pain is soft tissue mobilization, which may be especially helpful for shin pain. It involves the physical therapist using their hands to find scar tissue. Then they use gentle massage-like movements to break up the tissue and release the tension.
  • Strengthening exercises — It’s important that your ankle joint is able to support the weight of your body as you move, especially when you have to adjust to the new position of your knee. Your physical therapist will walk you through safe and effective exercises that will strengthen the muscles in your foot and ankle to increase stability and reduce pain.
  • Orthotic recommendations — Whether you’re trying to find comfort from plantar fasciitis, or you need to improve your gait due to a change in alignment, orthotics can help alleviate your pain and improve your lower extremity function. A physical therapist can make recommendations for orthotics that they believe will work best for your needs. 

Armor Physical Therapy can help alleviate your shin and ankle pain after knee replacement surgery

While knee replacement surgery can be life changing for many people, it’s not unusual to experience pain afterward, including in your shin and ankle. We can help you alleviate the pain so that you can continue restoring your overall mobility. 

Call us or request an appointment today to help reduce your shin and ankle pain after knee replacement surgery. 

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