Educational video describing total knee replacement surgery

Total knee replacement surgery provides relief for patients with severe pain caused by degeneration of the cartilage in the knee, advanced arthritis, or serious knee injuries. Approximately 85 to 90 percent of all total knee replacement operations performed are successful for approximately 10 to 15 years, depending on the patient's level of activity, after which time revision surgery may be recommended by your doctor.

What causes the pain?

Degenerative changes or injury can cause damage to some of the structures in the knee, causing pain and discomfort, and limiting normal activities. One of these conditions, called osteoarthritis, causes the cartilage that normally helps to cushion the bones to wear down, making the bones rub together, which causes pain. Other conditions that may lead to total knee replacement surgery are rheumatoid arthritis and post-traumatic arthritis. Your doctor may try to reduce your discomfort with pain medication, weight management and physical therapy, but total knee replacement may be recommended if these remedies are unsuccessful.

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What are the benefits of surgery?

Knee conditions limit patients' activities of daily living due to pain and limited mobility. A benefit of knee replacement surgery is that it may be able to help patients resume a normal lifestyle. However, depending on the patient's underlying condition and overlying health, the patient may never be without pain, even after knee replacement surgery.

What are the risks of surgery?

While knee replacement surgery is a safe treatment, there are risks that are possible with any surgery. For total knee replacement, they include:

  • Infection in the artificial joint
  • Neurovascular (i.e., nerve and/or blood vessels) damage
  • Wear and tear of prosthesis (i.e., the knee implant device) due to heavy use
  • Stiffness of the knee if scar tissue develops
  • Complications involving the lungs, heart, gastrointestinal, or neurological system
  • Failure to relieve knee pain
  • Loss of the leg due to blood clots
  • Death

Knee replacement surgery is nearly always a successful procedure, but patients should carefully consider any risks and weigh them carefully before deciding to have surgery.

What happens during surgery?

The surgery involves removing a small portion of the bone in the knee, and covering it with a combination of metal and plastic to form a new surface of the joint and to repair loss of bone structure or ligament support.

What happens after surgery?

Medicines may be prescribed by your surgeon to help prevent blood clots after surgery. Your surgeon and physical therapist will also discuss movement guidelines for you following surgery.

How long is the recovery period after surgery?

Depending on the individual patient and their specific condition and needs, it may take from six months to a year to fully recover from knee replacement surgery. After total knee replacement surgery, patients can lead healthy and active lives. Some activities, such as high-impact sports, should be avoided, and a leg brace is required for any athletic sports.

What is the rehab after surgery?

Rehabilitation begins immediately following surgery and may include a machine to help move your leg in the first few days after surgery. The success of the replacement and recovery is contingent on the patient and their participation in the rehabilitation process. This process requires a lot of time, effort, and a positive attitude to ensure success.

Before you leave the hospital, a physical therapist will provide goals and instructions for you to complete while in the hospital and at home. It is recommended that you follow the instructions for a minimum of two months following surgery. At that time, you should ask your physician when you may resume your previous activities.

There are several basic rules about positioning that you should be aware of following surgery. Make sure that you do not kneel, squat or jump, and do not twist or pivot your operated knee. Do not place weights on top of your knee, and do not allow anyone to push on your knee or ankle while sitting or lying down. Do not use ankle weights, and do not lie in bed with a roll or pillow under your knee for prolonged periods of time. While sitting, make sure that you use a straight back chair with arm rests, and do not sit in chairs or sofas lower than knee height since they require excessive bending at the knees when sitting down and getting up. Also remember not to cross your legs while sitting and place a stool under your feet for support while lifting weights. Since most toilet seats are lower than knee height, patients are recommended to use a toilet seat extension, which are available for purchase in the hospital or a medical supply store. Based on your individual treatment plan, your physical therapist will determine your need for this item.