Total Knee Replacement Question and Answer

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What is a knee replacement?

Knee replacement surgery is designed to replace the damaged articular cartilage or gliding surface and any associated loss of bone structure or ligament support. The procedure itself is a resurfacing of the damaged knee, and relies on the patient's muscles and ligaments for support and function. The prostheses (replacement knees) come in numerous configurations designed for replacement of specific patterns of advanced arthritis.

Who is a candidate for knee replacement surgery?

People with painful knee deformities, severe degenerative X-ray changes, or advanced symptoms of arthritis are candidates for knee replacement surgery. Symptoms of advanced end-stage knee arthritis include, pain, crepitus, stiffness, limping, muscle weakness, limitation of motion and swelling. Family physicians, internists, rheumatologists, physiatrists and orthopedic surgeons are all trained to manage knee arthritis and can perform an initial evaluation. When medicines, diet and physical therapy fail to manage these symptoms, evaluation for knee replacement surgery might be indicated and performed by an orthopedic surgeon.

Are all knee replacements the same?

Knee replacements are not all the same. The prostheses can be made of cobalt chrome, titanium and polyethylene (plastic), and can be fixed to the bone with acrylic cement or can be press-fit, which allows bone to grow into the implant. Use of a particular implant design, material and fixation method depends on many factors related to each individual patient. The orthopedic surgeon selects the type of knee replacement that best suits each specific patient based on the amount of arthritis bone loss and quality of the ligaments supporting the knee.

How long does it take to recover from knee replacement surgery?

The vast majority of patients who undergo total knee surgery have dramatic improvement within weeks of the surgery. The pain caused by the damaged knee is relieved when a new gliding surface is constructed. Patients who have knee replacement surgery are standing and moving the joint the day after surgery. After about six weeks most patients are walking comfortably with minimal support. After muscle strength is restored, patients who have knee replacement surgery can enjoy most activities (except running and jumping). Learn more about rehab after knee replacement.

How long do total knee replacements last?

When knee replacement procedures were first performed in the early 1970s, it was thought that the average total knee implant would last approximately 10 years. We now know that approximately 85 percent of the knee implants will last 20 years. Improvements in surgical technique, prosthetic designs, bearing surfaces and fixation methods might increase the survival rate of these implants even longer.