A knee replacement is a surgery that can reduce pain and improve quality of life in people with severe arthritis. It is usually recommended after non-operative treatments (such as activity modification anti-inflammatory medications or knee joint injections) have failed to provide relief of arthritic symptoms.
A knee replacement involves removing diseased bone and cartilage from your knee, and replacing it with a plastic and metal implant. The surgery is very successful in reducing pain and improving the quality of life for many patients.
What is a knee replacement?
Knee replacement surgery, also known as knee arthroplasty, is an operation that replaces damaged or worn-out parts of your knee. This helps you relieve pain and improve your mobility.
A surgeon may recommend a knee replacement if your pain is severe or has not improved with nonsurgical treatment. Your doctor will check your knee’s range of motion, strength, and stability with X-rays.
Your doctor will help you choose the best knee replacement design based on your age, weight, activity level, and knee size and shape. Implant designs and materials, as well as surgical techniques, continue to advance.
Some complications of knee replacement surgery include infections, blood clots in your leg veins, and a reaction to the sutures used. These complications are rare, but should be treated if they occur.
How does it work?
If you have severe knee pain that doesn’t respond to nonsurgical treatment, surgery may be your best option. During this procedure, your surgeon replaces your damaged knee joint with a new artificial one.
The surgery begins with an incision that allows the surgeon to gain access to the area around your knee joint. The surgeon then rotates the patella, or kneecap, to expose the front of your knee and remove any damaged bone and cartilage.
Next, your surgeon resurfaces the end of your femur, or thigh bone, to fit the first part of the artificial knee. Depending on the type of implant used, your surgeon may resurface the top of your tibia, or shinbone, to form the bearing surface for the artificial femoral component.
Before you leave the hospital, you’ll be taught specific exercises that help restore knee movement and strengthen your leg muscles. These exercises are also important to help prevent blood clots in your legs, which can travel to your lungs and cause life-threatening problems.
What are the risks?
There are a few risks associated with knee surgery. These include infection, blood clots and joint damage.
Fortunately, the risk of these complications is much lower than in the past. Newer practices of giving antibiotics before and during the operation have cut the risk dramatically.
Infection can happen in around 1 in 50 people. But it can usually be treated with antibiotics and the wound will heal.
A small number of people will experience stiffness in the knee after surgery. This happens when scar tissue forms, limiting movement of the new joint.
This can be reduced by completing an exercise program before your operation. Your surgeon will also recommend strengthening your quadriceps muscles, which can speed up recovery and reduce your chances of a stiff knee.
During the first week or so after surgery, you may need to use crutches or a walking frame to get around. Using these will help protect your knee, and avoid falls that could lead to injury.
What is the recovery like?
Every person’s knee surgery recovery process is different, but most patients can return to a full, active lifestyle. It’s also a gradual process and depends on the person’s overall health, fitness level and any other issues that have impacted their knee before surgery.
In the hospital, physical therapists help get you up and moving. They work with you to practice walking and climbing stairs, instruct you on a gentle home exercise program and teach you how to use your walker or crutches.
You may need to use a cane or crutches for 1 to 3 weeks after surgery due to pain and stiffness, but most people can walk unaided by 4 to 8 weeks postoperatively.
Your doctor may prescribe pain medication to help relieve your discomfort and speed up your recovery. These medications can be administered in the form of injections or pills, and they should be used as needed. Keeping your pain under control and using your walker or crutches correctly can also speed up your recovery.