What is a Total Knee Replacement?

If you have painful arthritis in your knees, you have probably thought about the possibility of a knee replacement. But what is a total knee replacement, exactly, and is it right for you?

A total knee replacement is a procedure used to replace the entire knee joint with synthetic components. The purpose is to restore mobility and reduce pain in the joint. Having surgery is a serious decision, but when non-surgical interventions no longer help, it may be time to consider it as an option.

A surgeon consults with a patient about his knee with an image of a knee in an X-ray.

When you are ready to talk about surgery for your knee pain or arthritis, consult with a joint specialist. They can explain the procedure, discuss the risks and benefits, and help you decide what to do next.

Who Needs Knee Replacement Surgery?

The most common source of knee pain and inflammation leading to limited mobility is arthritis. Patients who need a replacement knee usually have one of three types of arthritis in the joint:

  • Osteoarthritis. This is the most common type of arthritis that occurs as the result of normal wear and tear. Everyone eventually gets some degree of osteoarthritis in their joints.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. This autoimmune disorder is less common but also causes deterioration, swelling, and pain in the joints.
  • Traumatic arthritis. You can develop arthritis in the knee at any age due to an injury. The damage from a traumatic impact can cause cartilage to break down, resulting in arthritis.

If you are considering surgery, it is essential that you consult with a specialist in knee replacement procedures. They can give you more information about total knee replacement surgery and evaluate you to determine if surgery is the right next step. Specialists often recommend the procedure for people with:

  • Ongoing pain or immobility after trying first-line treatments, like injections, pain medications, physical therapy, and braces
  • Severe pain and stiffness in the joint that limits the ability to engage in everyday activities
  • Significant pain even when resting
  • Chronic stiffness and swelling in the knee that does not respond to treatments

What to Expect

Your total knee replacement begins with an orthopedic evaluation. A specialist will take your medical history, do a physical examination, and take X-rays to look at the damage, strength, and stability in your knees.

Once you have decided to have the procedure, your surgeon might recommend you undergo several medical evaluations. This is to ensure you are healthy enough to have surgery with minimal risks.

On the day of your procedure, an anesthesiologist will administer general anesthesia or a nerve block. Anesthesia puts you to sleep, while a nerve block keeps you awake but unable to feel anything from the waist down. Your doctors will discuss the options with you, so together you and your anesthesiologist can choose the option best for you.

The procedure takes about two hours. The surgeon will remove damaged cartilage and bone and replace them with the components of the artificial knee.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from Knee Replacement Surgery?

You might need to stay in the hospital for 1-2 days after surgery, but this will depend on individual factors, like your age and overall fitness and health. Once you’re home, you will go through rehabilitation and physical therapy.

Expect to take up to three months to get back to a normal routine. It can take six months to a year to regain full strength in the joint and build up good endurance. Again, the total time depends on your health and fitness.

The Risks and Benefits of a Total Knee Replacement

Knee replacement is a common surgery with some of the best outcomes. The benefits outweigh the risks for most patients, but it is still important to consider risk factors.

General risks of any type of surgery include infections and blood clots. It is important to monitor for signs of infection and to follow your surgeon’s instructions after surgery to reduce the risk of a harmful clot. There is also always a small risk that the joint will loosen and cause pain or limited mobility.

The benefits of a total knee replacement include reduced pain and stiffness and increased mobility. Most patients experience significant improvement in both areas, but you also need to consider the limitations. Many surgeons discourage patients from doing a lot of high-impact activities, like running. They do recommend lower impact activities that will be gentle on the knee, like swimming and walking.

Patients should also understand that synthetic knees do not last forever. Today’s knees are better than ever, but a recent study reviewed knee procedures and found that 82% of total knee replacements lasted only 25 years.

If knee pain seriously limits your ability to enjoy life, it is time to talk to a specialist. Contact some of the best knee replacement surgeons in North Carolina at North Carolina Specialty Hospital. Schedule a consultation to discuss your options today.

Stay Current

Educational Articles & More

View News & Press