The Need for Knee Surgery

What you can expect when your knees need a helping hand.

If you suffer from stiff, painful knees; the simplest movements are painful; and no other treatment seems to be helping, it may be time to take the plunge and undergo knee replacement surgery. Most frequently performed on people over the age of 50 who have severe osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, this surgery can alleviate pain and restore function to damaged knee joints.

Through knee replacement surgery, those who experience pain when walking, lowering into a chair, standing up, bending their knees, climbing stairs, or even when resting can often get a new lease on life.
Is it for you? Here’s what you need to know.

The Procedure

During knee replacement surgery (typically knee arthroplasty-which is performed through tiny incisions), you’re either put to sleep or numbed appropriately, courtesy of anesthesia. An incision is then made down the front of your knee. The damaged cartilage and bone are then removed and replaced with an artificial joint made out of polymers, plastics, or metal alloys. This new joint is attached to existing bones using cement or other bonding material. Surrounding muscle and ligaments support the joint so it can move naturally.

The surgery generally lasts about two hours. But you don’t get to head home just yet. You’ll then need to stay at the hospital for several days, as your new joint is monitored. However, if all goes well, you should be standing and moving your new joint the next day.

Following surgery, you’ll need physical therapy. You may be sent to a rehabilitation facility for up to 10 days or a physical therapist may come to your home for treatment. Following this initial treatment, you will require physical therapy at an outpatient center for up to two months, depending on how well you improve. During this time, your therapist will teach you exercises and give you guidelines on how to best strengthen your new knee during recovery. While you may pride yourself on not following physician’s orders, failing to follow the therapist’s precautions could lead to a dislocated knee.

The Results

Expect dramatic improvement to your knee following surgery. For four to six weeks, your movements will be limited and you may need the assistance of a cane or walker until you feel strong enough to support yourself. Once you’ve lived with your improved knee for six weeks or so, you should be able to walk with little or no assistance.

You’ll feel like a new person. The pain will be relieved, your mobility increased, and your quality of life improved. You’ll be able to do just about anything except jump, ski, tennis, or run. Just remember that every person’s recovery is different, so work with your physician and physical therapist for your best possible results.


Like any surgery, knee replacement surgery comes with risks. While rare, these include infection, heart attack, stroke, broken bones, blood clot in lungs or leg, or nerve damage. If the new knee joint becomes infected, a second surgery is required to remove the joint and kill the bacteria. A new artificial knee will then be put in. Though this is better than the alternative, each additional surgery decreases your chances of full recovery of mobility and pain reduction.

And just like your natural joints, artificial joints don’t last forever. Even the strong plastic and metal parts can wear out and fail. The more stress placed on a joint through excess weight or high-impact activities, the greater the risk of failure.

Skip the Surgery

As you age, your joints become weaker. If you’re genetically predisposed to knee problems or have an illness such as rheumatoid arthritis or a metabolic disorder that leads to knee problems, you don’t have to give up on having healthy knees.

So what can you do to keep your knees in tip-top shape? A good first step is to keep a healthy weight. Excess weight places pressure on all joints, especially the knees. Second, avoid repetitive movements or stressing your knees through activities such as squatting, kneeling, or frequent lifting of heavy materials. Third, sports such as running, tennis, or soccer may lead to osteoarthritis, so avoid them if possible. Instead, get regular exercise that doesn’t place stress on your joints, as it is good for your joints, their surrounding muscles, and your overall health.

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