If you have chronic pain or mobility problems in your knee that haven’t responded to more conservative treatments, such as medications, cortisone injections, and physical therapy, your doctor may suggest a knee replacement. Most knee replacement patients have some form of arthritis, which causes degeneration of the knee joint that often gets worse over time.
Knee replacements are typically very successful — the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons states that more than 90 percent of knee replacement patients experience a significant reduction of pain and improvement in function, and your new joint should last for 15 to 20 years.
Before you decide on a knee replacement, you’ll have a thorough consultation with an orthopedic surgeon and undergo diagnostic tests. Your surgeon will ask you about your symptoms, prior medical history, and lifestyle habits.
Be prepared to answer questions about your pain and mobility problems, any diagnosed medical conditions, medications and supplements you take, treatment methods you’ve tried to control your knee pain, your diet and exercise habits, and whether you smoke, drink, or use recreational drugs.
Your surgeon will order tests to determine the extent of the damage in your knee, such as an X-ray, bone scan, or MRI.
If your doctor decides you’re a good candidate for knee replacement, they’ll likely order other tests prior to surgery, such as blood tests and an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) to make sure your heart is healthy enough for you to go under anesthesia.
Most knee replacement patients stay at least one night in the hospital, though some healthy patients who have minimally invasive surgery are able to return home the same day.
While you’re under anesthesia, your surgeon will remove the damage to your knee joint and replace the joint with one made of plastic and metal. Most artificial knee joints are cemented to your bone.
In the past, knee replacements required surgeons to make incisions 8 to 10 inches long around the bottom of patients’ knees. Many modern procedures are less invasive and require much smaller incisions, which reduces healing time and minimizes the damage to the muscles and tendons.
Most knee replacement patients are able to begin walking within 24 hours after surgery. You’ll most likely need a walker or crutches for several days to several weeks. It’s extremely important to get up and walk multiple times a day throughout your recovery, even though you may find it uncomfortable at first.
Once you return home, you’ll need to rest your knee when you’re not walking or performing physical therapy exercises. Your surgeon will prescribe pain medication to take for the first few days when your pain levels will be highest. Prop your knee on pillows when you’re resting and apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes at a time to reduce swelling.
Most knee replacement patients work with a physical therapist to encourage healing and increase mobility in the new joint. You probably need a few weeks or months of physical therapy, though it depends on your age and health.
Your physical therapist will work on your knee with gentle stretching and mobility exercises. They’ll also give you exercises to do several times a day at home. Make sure you do your exercises exactly as your physical therapist recommends to strengthen your knee and reduce your recovery time.
Don’t drive until your surgeon says it’s safe for you to do so. If you have a sedentary job, you may be able to return to work 2 to 6 weeks after your surgery. Many people need several months to fully recover from knee replacement surgery. You won’t be able to do strenuous activities or be on your feet for long periods.
If you have a job that requires a lot of standing, walking, or physical labor you’ll need 6 to 12 weeks to heal before you can return.
Omaha Orthopedic Clinic and Sports Medicine performs joint replacements, including knees. If you or someone you love experiences chronic knee pain, contact us today to schedule an appointment.