Is it time for a total knee replacement?

Is it time for a total knee replacement?

Most people know it but many put it off trying to avoid the inevitable – a total knee replacement.  They’ve suffered for a long time – usually years – of persistent chronic knee pain that is now disrupting and interfering with everyday activities and things you want or need to do.

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Knee replacement surgery is one of the most common and important orthopedic surgical procedures conducted.  The very first total knee replacement surgery was performed in 1968.  Today, more than 300,000 knee replacement surgeries are performed yearly in the United States with that number expected to grow as more and more baby boomers age.  The success rate of a total knee surgery is very good with 90% of people who have had the operation experiencing an improvement in knee pain and function.

How do you know if you need a total knee replacement?

Other than the telltale signs of knee pain and disability, there are other signs that will indicate the time has come to replace the knee which include the following:

·      The pain is persistent and chronic

·      The knees ache during and after exercise

·      Mobility has been reduced

·      The knees stiffen up after a long car ride or from prolonged sitting

·      Rainy weather causes pain in the knees

·      The pain disturbs sleep

·      A decrease in the knees range of motion or the degree to which you can bend the knee

·      The knees are stiff and swollen

·      Difficulty in walking or climbing stairs

·      A feeling of“grating” in the knee joint

·      A previous injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of the knee

Getting diagnosed

To be diagnosed for a knee replacement surgery, a person will need to see an orthopedic surgeon.  An orthopedic surgeon is a medical doctor educated and trained in the preoperative, operative, and postoperative treatment of diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system. 

They will do a thorough examination of the knee including x-raying and conducting physical tests for strength and range of motion, stability, alignment, what provokes the pain and assessing the ability to walk and bend the knee.   Questions asked by the surgeon will be to describe the pain, if there is any other joint pain, and if there have been past injuries to the knee. 

What to expect after a knee replacement

Making the decision to have a knee replaced needs to be weighed carefully before deciding what to do.  The ultimate goal of a total knee replacement should be to improve knee function along with reducing pain.  Just because you will have your knee replaced does not necessarily mean it will turn you into a marathon runner or be totally pain free.  There will be certain restrictions after the surgery as it does take time for the knee to completely heal. 

Even though knee replacements can last many years, they may need revision surgery at some point as the knee joint can wear out or loosen.  Approximately 85% of individuals getting a total knee replacement can expect the implant to last about 20 years.

Like with any invasive procedure or surgery, there can be complications.  Knee replacement surgery complications are low with fewer than 2% of patients developing a problem.  The most common complication of knee replacement surgery is the patient developing a blood clot forming in the leg veins.  There will be preventative steps to reduce this risk by having the patient elevate their legs, performing exercises to promote circulation in the legs, wearing of compression hose, and taking a blood thinner.

Enhancing the recovery process

A total knee replacement surgery can be life-changing and very successful as long as a person takes precautionary steps to enhance the recovery process.  After the surgery, follow all of your surgeon’s advice and recommendations including the following:

·      Do the post-op exercises faithfully with a physical therapist including exercises they will want you to do at home on your own to strengthen the knee.

·      Be careful to balance resting with activity, especially in the first few weeks in the recovery process

·      Take the recommendations given to avoid developing a blood clot

·      Be alert to any signs of an infection

·      Take precautionary measures not to fall

·      Abide by any restrictions until the doctor has given you the all clear.

·      Keep your appointments with the doctor in the weeks following the surgery