Knee Replacement: Who It’s For & What to Expect

Around 1 in 4 adults in the US report experiencing severe joint pain because of arthritis-related degeneration. If you’re struggling with arthritis pain in your knee, you may be wondering if total knee replacement surgery is right for you.

As an orthopedic surgeon specializing in total knee replacement, Dr. Trey Alexander has helped many patients regain mobility and manage pain. In this blog, Dr. Alexander explains what patients need to know about total knee replacement and what to expect before and after surgery.

Knee Replacement Overview: “Knee Resurfacing”

Knee replacement surgery (also called knee arthroplasty) is a procedure that can help relieve pain in patients with joint degeneration in one or both of their knees.

An orthopedic surgeon may recommend total knee replacement for patients with severe arthritis or injuries that haven’t responded to conservative treatments like medications and physical therapy. With knee replacement, patients can regain knee function, eliminate pain, and get back to living daily life.

During the procedure, a joint replacement surgeon removes the degenerated cartilage and bone surfaces of your knee and replaces the surface with metal and plastic. Your surgeon will also replace your meniscus, which is the piece of cartilage that absorbs shock in your knee. Most of your ligaments and tendons will be left intact.

Partial vs. Total Knee Replacement: What’s the difference?

Depending on your individual situation, your surgeon may recommend a partial or total knee replacement.

There are three compartments of the knee joint—the medial compartment (inside), the lateral compartment (outside), and the patella (kneecap). If only one compartment has arthritis, then only one compartment is replaced—this is called partial knee replacement.

Unfortunately, most patients have arthritis in all three compartments, so all three need to be replaced—this is total knee replacement.

Who is a good candidate for knee replacement?

Your orthopedic surgeon may recommend total knee replacement if arthritis pain affects your quality of life and gets in the way of your ability to perform daily activities. Surgery is usually recommended for patients who have:

  • Arthritis in the knee that causes severe pain, swelling, or stiffness
  • Difficulty performing daily tasks around the house because of knee pain, swelling, or stiffness
  • Difficulty walking because of discomfort
  • Knee deformities, such as the knee bowing in or out
  • Pain even when sitting or lying down

Your surgeon may recommend starting with non-surgical treatments, like medication and physical therapy. However, if these conservative treatments aren’t enough to control pain and inflammation, you may be a candidate for surgery.

How does a surgeon determine if I need partial or total knee replacement?

Surgeons look at a lot of different factors to determine if knee replacement is suitable for a patient.

Your doctor will often start by asking you about your medical history and your current lifestyle. They’ll also perform a physical exam, order standing x-rays, and discuss other potential treatment options with you. Even if you don’t qualify for an operation, surgeons like Dr. Alexander can help you find a treatment plan to increase your mobility and reduce discomfort.

Knee Replacement Surgery: Step-by-Step Process

Step 1. Preparing for Surgery

You may have difficulty getting around the house and doing daily tasks after surgery, so preparing before the procedure is essential. Here are some tips:

  • Move everything you’ll need to the ground floor of your home to avoid climbing stairs
  • Use a shower bench or install railings in the bathroom to reduce the risk of falls
  • Prepare meals in advance or have food delivered (as standing in the kitchen to cook may be too strenuous)
  • Clear walkways in your home of cords and rugs
  • Schedule time off work or prepare to work remotely

Step 2. Surgery

Before the procedure, your doctor will give you a list of instructions to follow. You may be asked to stop taking certain medications and supplements before the procedure. Talk to your surgeon if you have any questions leading up to the day of your procedure.

Knee replacements are commonly performed in hospitals or ambulatory surgery centers. If patients are fit, active, younger than 75, and have good overall health, they may be able to go home the same day. Otherwise, patients will stay one night in the hospital.

During the operation, your surgeon will remove any damaged bone and cartilage surfaces around your knee. Then, they’ll place artificial implants designed to restore function to your knee joint. The entire process takes around 1 hour.

Potential Risks of Surgery

Knee replacement is generally considered a safe procedure, but there are always risks associated with any surgery. Some of those risks include blood clots, infection, and nerve or blood vessel damage. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, less than 2% of patients experience serious complications as a result of total knee replacement.

If you have an underlying condition (like diabetes or heart disease), you may be at a greater risk of complications. Before surgery, your surgeon will talk with you about risks and other important safety information.

Step 3. Recovery

Depending on your surgeon’s recommendations, you may be able to go home right after your procedure, or you may be asked to stay in the hospital for a night so your doctor can monitor your recovery.

You can start walking right after your procedure. You’ll meet with a licensed physical therapist to learn how to use a walker, cane, or another assistive device to get around. You won’t be able to drive, so ask a loved one or caretaker to bring you home. Once you’re home, it’s important to follow your surgeon’s instructions and take medication as prescribed.

You might feel some lingering pain the first few nights after surgery. The exact recovery timeline will vary from patient to patient, but typically takes around 1-2 months until patients feel they are turning the corner on their recovery. Your surgeon will talk with you about what you can expect after surgery and how quickly you may be able to get back to daily activities.

Step 4. Long-Term Outlook

You’ll continue to meet with your surgeon to monitor your recovery and a physical therapist to help you rebuild strength in your joint.

As the pain from surgery fades, you will notice that arthritis pain will have disappeared. You’ll hopefully be able to bend and move better than before—though you may face some early limitations on what activities you can do. Your surgeon will advise you on when and how you can return to certain activities.

Studies have found that 82% of total knee replacements last around 25 years. To maximize the lifespan of your knee replacement, you’ll need to stay active, follow your surgeon’s recommendations, and maintain a healthy weight.

Talk to an Orthopedic Surgeon About Your Knee Pain

If your knee pain is getting in the way of you living your life, it’s time to talk to a board-certified orthopedic surgeon about your options.

Call (813) 979-0440 or click here to schedule an appointment with Dr. Alexander at an office in North Tampa, Wiregrass, or Zephyrhills. For patients experiencing chronic pain and immobility, total knee replacement can provide a life-changing, long-term solution.

Dr. "Trey" Gerald AlexanderAbout Trey Alexander, MD

Dr. Trey Alexander is certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery. He specializes in hip and knee replacements, as well as revisions and treatment for older or damaged hip and knee prosthetics.

Dr. Alexander understands the importance of pain-free mobility and is passionate about achieving the best possible outcomes for his patients, no matter their age.

Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Every patient is different, so not all patients will experience the same results. Talk with your orthopedic surgeon about the benefits and risks unique to your situation.

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Orthopaedics, Sports Medicine & Spine

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