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Knee replacement surgery, also known as arthroplasty, is an operation that involves replacing a damaged knee with an artificial one. Anyone can be considered for the procedure, but most patients are aged between 60 and 80 years old.

A replacement knee usually lasts over 20 years if cared for properly and doesn’t have too much strain placed on it.

Why is Total Knee Replacement used?

A full knee replacement is usually necessary when the knee joint has worn away or has been so badly damaged that it affects your life by:

  • Restricting your movement
  • Leaving you experiencing pain regularly
  • Making everyday tasks difficult
  • Affecting your mood
  • Leaving you unable to work

The procedure is usually only recommended when other treatments haven’t helped, as it is a major operation and you must be able to cope with going through the procedure and the rehabilitation afterwards.

Total Knee Replacement - Knee Surgery - OA Knee Pain Diagram depicting a total knee replacement

About the procedure

Knee replacement surgery is usually performed under general anaesthetic, spinal anaesthetic or an epidural. The surgeon makes a cut down the front of the knee, exposing the kneecap. Moving this aside to access the joint, the damaged parts of the bones are removed and replaced with prosthetic components, including an artificial joint. The back of the kneecap may also be replaced, depending on the reasons for the surgery.

The procedure is likely to take three hours.

Advantages of total knee replacement

Due to the knee replacement usually lasting between 15 and 20 years, there should be no need for a revisory appointment unlike after other knee operations.

Total Knee Replacement - Knee Replacement Operation - OA Knee Pain X-ray of a total knee replacement

Risks of total knee replacement

Knee replacement surgery is a pretty straightforward operation and there are usually no complications. However, like most operations, there are certain risks, including infection, bleeding, swelling, stiffness and damage to either ligaments, nerves or arteries.

If the new knee joint isn’t stable, further surgery may be required to rectify it. However, this is only in rare cases.

Recovery

After the operation, you may be required to use a walking frame or crutches and need assistance with certain activities. However, after a week, most people are likely to be able to walk independently with crutches. You will also be visited by a physiotherapist who will teach you exercises to strengthen the knee and encourage mobility.

In some cases, extra help may be needed in the form of a passive motion machine, which slowly moves your knee while you are in bed. When resting it is advised to keep your leg raised to reduce swelling and improve circulation.

You will usually be discharged from hospital between three and five days, depending on how your recovery is going. Once at home, don’t be surprised if you feel extremely tired. To ensure the best recovery possible, ensure you follow the advice provided by the surgical team and the physiotherapist. You may also want to ask someone to stay with you for a week or two or, at most, check in daily to see how you are.

Six weeks after your operation, you should be able to stop using your crutches or walking frame and participate in your everyday activities again. However, it can take up to three months for the pain to settle and up to a year before swelling in the leg goes down. You should make a full recovery (i.e. your scar tissue has healed and your muscles have restored) after two years, however, it is not advised to take part in any rigorous activities that could damage your knee after this time.

If symptoms return, or you’re concerned about how your recovery is going, you should make an appointment with your GP.

Total Knee Replacement - Knee Replacement Recovery Time - OA Knee Pain You may be required to use a walking frame or crutches and need assistance with certain activities
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