Did you know that there are close to a million knee replacements done in the US every year? A knee replacement has become a common procedure and it almost always reduces joint pain and improves the quality of life. In fact, most people who undergo a knee replacement are happy with their new knee and many wish they had done it sooner.
The knee is hinge-like joint, formed where the thighbone, shinbone, and kneecap meet. It is supported by and ligaments and lined with cartilage to cushion the joint. The cartilage is a smooth tissue that covers the ends of the thighbone and shinbone and the underside of the absorbs stress and allows the bones to glide freely over each other. Joint fluid lubricates the cartilage surfaces, making movement even easier so a healthy knee joint bends easily and is pain free when you move.
Over time, cartilage can wear away or crack due to overuse, inflammation, or injury. Worn, rough cartilage no longer allows the joint to glide freely, so it feels stiff. As more cartilage wears away, exposed bones rub together in the knee causing pain. This is often referred to as bone-on-bone arthritis. With time, osteoarthritis causes bone surfaces become rough and lead to more pain and stiffness in the knee. This leads to pain when walking, climbing stairs, getting in and out of chairs or knee pain at rest or while sleeping.
A knee replacement can replace the painful joint and restore movement, allowing your knee to move and bend easily again. With a knee replacement the rough ends of the thighbone, shinbone and the underside of the kneecap are replaced with metal and plastic that are new smooth surfaces, the bones can once again glide freely and allow you to walk and move with greater comfort.
Your doctor will provide you with detailed instructions on preparing yourself and your home for your surgical procedure. On the day of your surgery, you will arrive at the hospital and when the surgical team is ready, you’ll be taken to the operating room. There you’ll be given anesthesia to help you sleep through surgery. An incision is made on the front or side of your knee. Damaged bone is cleaned away, the new joint surfaces are put into place and the incision is closed.
After surgery, you’ll be cared for until you are fully awake. The team of nurses will make sure that your pain is under control, and soon after your procedure will help you get up and moving. Today, many patients will go home the same day or within 24 hours following their procedure.
Once home, you will follow your doctor’s instructions for applying ice, elevating the joint and scheduling physical therapy to start performing range of motion exercises. You will most likely be able to walk with the assistance of a cane or a walker. Swelling in the area is normal and common and you will be instructed to watch for any signs of infection
The biggest challenge after knee replacement is regaining motion. It is critical that you work to maximize the bending and straightening of your new knee as often as possible. Even though this may be painful, it will not injure your knee and is crucial for a good recovery.
Once at home, call your doctor if you have any of the symptoms below:
It is common for patients to have pain at night and interrupted sleep during the first month. This is normal and will resolve in time. So, while recovering, listen to your body and take naps during the day as needed.
A month after your knee replacement most people are ready to return to work and some begin driving again. At three months post-surgery, life is starting to return to normal and you may be able to introduce some types of physical fitness and exercise back into your routine. Some of the common things you can expect at three months post-surgery include: