Knee replacement surgery (knee arthroplasty) is surgery to replace all or some of your knee joint. Your surgeon will replace damaged cartilage and bone with a prosthetic joint. It can take up to a year to recover fully after a knee replacement, but you’ll be able to resume some of your usual activities gradually as you heal.
A surgeon will remove damaged parts of your natural knee joint and replace them with an artificial joint (a prosthesis) made of metal and plastic.
Your surgeon will recommend either a total or partial knee replacement:
A healthcare provider might recommend knee replacement if you have severe symptoms that don’t get better after trying nonsurgical treatments, including:
Arthritis is the most common condition that causes people to need knee replacement surgery. Most people who choose to have a knee replacement have osteoarthritis, but some people with rheumatoid arthritis may need one, too.
It’s rare, but a healthcare provider might suggest knee replacement if you’ve experienced a bone fracture in your knee that causes post-traumatic arthritis after you’ve experienced a:
Knee replacements are one of the most common types of arthroplasties. Surgeons in the U.S. perform more than 850,000 knee replacements each year.
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Your healthcare provider and surgeon will tell you what you need to do to get ready for surgery. In general, you’ll need:
Tell your provider and surgeon about any medications and over-the-counter supplements you take. You may have to stop taking some medications or supplements before your surgery.
Your surgeon will tell you when you should stop eating and drinking the day before your surgery. Most people need to avoid eating and drinking 12 hours before their surgery.
On the day of your surgery, you’ll receive anesthesia to numb your body and make sure you don’t feel any pain. An anesthesiologist will give you either general anesthesia to put you to sleep during your surgery or a regional anesthesia to numb you from the waist down.
During a knee replacement, your surgeon will:
Knee replacements usually take an hour or two.
The prosthetic parts your surgeon will use during a knee replacement will look very similar to your original knee. Instead of bone and cartilage, the prosthetic joint is made of metal and plastic. It’s made to replicate the shape, size and function of a natural knee joint.
After surgery, you’ll be moved to a recovery room. Your surgery team will keep an eye on you for a few hours to make sure you wake up from the anesthesia without complications. They’ll also monitor your vital signs and pain level.
Some people who have knee replacement surgery go home the same day. You might need to stay in the hospital overnight. Your surgeon will tell you when it’s safe for you to go home.
Knee arthroplasty is a safe, effective procedure that helps people regain their mobility and relieves long-term pain. Most people who have a knee replacement have reduced pain, increased ability to move and use their knee, and improved quality of life.
A knee replacement usually lasts a long time. In fact, more than 90% of people who have knee replacement surgery have improved function in their knee for 10 to 15 years.
Some people who have knee replacement surgery still experience pain and other symptoms in their knee. Rare complications include:
Certain health conditions can make recovery from a knee replacement more difficult. Talk to your surgeon about your health history. Tell them if you have:
Your surgeon will let you know what to expect after your surgery and how you can reduce your chances of experiencing complications.
It usually takes around a year to recover fully after a knee replacement. But you should be able to resume most of your usual activities six weeks after surgery.
Your recovery time will depend on several factors, including your:
Your surgeon will give you a customized recovery plan, but in general, you should:
After surgery, you’ll feel pain, especially in the first few weeks of your recovery. You’ll feel pain from the surgery itself and pain as your body begins to heal.
Your surgeon will suggest a combination of prescription pain medication, over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (if it’s safe for you to take them) and acetaminophen to relieve your pain. Your surgeon will tell you how much of each kind of medication you can take each day or in a certain amount of time.
Talk to your surgeon if you feel like you’re experiencing too much pain or if you’re worried about any complications from taking pain medication.
How long you’ll need to miss work or school depends on how much stress your job or other activities put on your knee. Most people need to rest at home for a few weeks after a knee replacement. Your surgeon will let you know when it’s safe to return to work or school.
You’ll be able to walk with a cane or a walker a few days after your surgery. But you’ll probably need help with some everyday activities, including:
Plan ahead to have a loved one help you after surgery. Your surgeon or healthcare provider can suggest resources if you need help while you’re recovering.
Your recovery will be easier and safer if you prepare your home ahead of time, including:
Call your surgeon or healthcare provider right away if you experience any of the following symptoms:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Choosing to have knee replacement surgery is a big decision, and it’s completely normal to feel anxious and have lots of questions. Talk to your healthcare provider and surgeon about anything that’s on your mind before or after your surgery.
Recovering from a knee replacement is hard work and can take months, but it’s worth it. Most people who have a knee arthroplasty have significantly less day-to-day pain and are able to move better than they were before having surgery. Ask your surgeon what to expect during your recovery and when it’s safe to return to your usual routine.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/18/2023.
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