Total knee replacement surgery, also called total knee arthroplasty, is one of the most commonly performed orthopedic surgeries. During this procedure, a surgeon replaces the damaged part of the knee joint with an artificial joint made of medical-grade plastic and metal. After the surgery, most patients experience pain relief and increased mobility.
Your healthcare provider may recommend knee replacement surgery if you have knee pain or immobility that keeps you from performing everyday tasks, such as climbing stairs, walking, or getting in and out of chairs. Knee replacement surgery shouldn’t be your first line of treatment, but it may be necessary if other treatment options have failed.
When is total knee replacement surgery recommended?
Before you get knee replacement surgery, your physician will make sure you meet the following two criteria:
- You have pain and mobility issues in your knee that make it hard for you to perform everyday tasks, and
- You have tried non-surgical treatment options, such as medication or wearing a brace, and they haven’t helped.
Arthritis is the top reason that people need knee replacement surgery. In a healthy knee, the bones, cartilage, and menisci work together to create smooth, frictionless motion. In an arthritic knee, deterioration of the bones or cartilage can make movement painful or difficult.
The two main types of arthritis that may lead to a total knee replacement are:
Osteoarthritis: This is the most common type of arthritis. If you have osteoarthritis, the cartilage that cushions the bones in your knee joint may have started to wear away. When the cartilage deteriorates enough, the bones in your knee will begin to rub together when you move. This can cause pain, inflammation, and a loss of mobility.
Rheumatoid arthritis: If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your body’s immune system can start to attack the synovial membrane that surrounds and protects the bones in your joints. This may cause inflammation and lead to pain, restricted movement, and a loss of cartilage.
What happens during a total knee arthroplasty?
Your knee is made up of the lower end of your femur (thigh bone), the upper end of your tibia (shin bone), and the patella (kneecap). During knee replacement surgery, the surgeon operates on these bones through an incision on the front of your knee. You’ll be given general or regional anesthesia so you won’t feel any pain during the procedure.
First, they move the kneecap to the side so they can get a clear view of the other bones in your knee joint. Next, they cut away the damaged or diseased parts of the femur and tibia, shaping the bone to fit into the pieces of the artificial knee. Your surgeon may also cut away the damaged part of the patella during this part of the surgery. Then, they attach the artificial knee.
Your replacement knee will likely have three components:
- A metal part that attaches to your femur,
- A plastic-and-metal part that attaches to your tibia, and
- A small plastic component that goes on your patella.
Your surgeon will perform measurements and range-of-motion tests during and after the surgery to ensure that the knee replacement is balanced and functioning properly. The surgery typically takes about two hours.
How long will you stay in the hospital after a total knee replacement?
Total knee arthroplasty is often performed as an outpatient procedure, meaning you’ll be able to go home the same day as your surgery. However, some people may need to stay in the hospital for a few days after getting a total knee replacement. Your healthcare provider should be able to tell you ahead of time when you’ll get to go home after your procedure.
Immediately after your surgery, you’ll be taken to a recovery room for about one to two hours while your anesthesia wears off. During that time, your medical team will monitor you for any signs of complications.
Before you leave the hospital or surgery center, your physician will give you instructions for your recovery. To help prevent swelling and blood clots after your knee replacement, your physician may advise you to:
- Move your foot and ankle often to increase blood flow to your leg,
- Wear compression stockings, and
- Take any blood thinners they prescribe.
What can you expect from your new knee after surgery?
Most people are able to stand and walk on the same day or the day after their knee replacement surgery. During your recovery, you’ll go to physical therapy to learn how to move around with your new knee. Your physical therapist will also teach you exercises to help strengthen your knee as you heal.
Throughout your recovery, you will have regular check-ins with your physician to check that your artificial joint is working as it should.
It can take up to three or four months to fully heal from your total knee arthroplasty. By that time, you should be able to fully straighten and bend your knee without pain and resume normal activities.
After your knee replacement heals, you should be able to do low-impact exercise, including hiking, swimming, tennis, and golfing. However, even after you’re fully healed, you should avoid activities that could damage your new knee, such as downhill skiing, running, football, and soccer.
With proper care, your artificial knee joint may last 15 to 20 years or more. However, if your knee replacement loosens or wears out, it may need to be replaced again.
Deciding to get total knee replacement surgery
Your healthcare provider will help you decide whether knee replacement surgery is the best treatment for your knee pain and mobility issues. Before recommending the procedure, they’ll go over your medical history, perform a physical examination of your leg, and use x-rays or other tests to assess the level of damage in your knee joint.
If your provider has determined that you’re a good candidate for knee replacement, you can use the New Choice Health Orthopedic Surgery Assistance program to find a fair, affordable price for your surgery. Click here to learn more about how cash pay discounts and financing options can lower your out-of-pocket costs.