Life can take you anywhere. But when you begin to feel chronic pain related to knee arthritis, time spent doing the things you love may come to a screeching halt. Whether it’s running, biking, walking, traveling, golfing or playing with your grandkids, the activities that once brought you joy may now bring unwelcome pain, too. So, what’s the solution?
For many, knee replacement surgery is an effective option to reduce arthritis pain and continue to live an active life. The great news is that there are several different types of knee replacement surgery, as well as advanced surgical techniques that can speed up your healing time.
With help from our expert, Gerald “Trey” Alexander, MD, we’ll explain some common types of knee replacement surgery, as well as what you might expect throughout your knee replacement journey.
Who Needs Knee Replacement Surgery
According to Dr. Alexander, “The most common reason for knee replacement surgery is knee osteoarthritis. This often happens due to wear and tear on the knee joint that leads to progressive cartilage loss over time. Because if often continues to get worse, osteoarthritis of the knee can start with minor pain and increasingly become debilitating.”
Common symptoms of knee osteoarthritis include:
- Gradual knee pain that worsens with activity
- Knee stiffness
- Knee swelling
- Pain after extended sitting or resting
- Knee pain that continues to get worse
If you have osteoarthritis, your doctor will start by offering the most conservative treatments to alleviate your pain. Some initial treatments for knee osteoarthritis might include the following:
- Weight loss
- Physical therapy
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Cortisone injections
- Viscosupplementation or gel injections
If these strategies aren’t helpful and your condition worsens, your doctor might offer knee replacement surgery as a promising option to reduce pain and return to the active life you love again.
Types of Knee Replacement Surgery
With a total knee replacement, your surgeon removes the damaged cartilage and bone from your entire knee joint and replaces it with a customizable device made of metal and plastic. For some, only a partial knee replacement is necessary. In this procedure, only a part of the knee joint is replaced.
Both partial and total knee replacement surgeries can also be performed in a variety of ways. Dr. Alexander explains, “Today, there are several advanced minimally invasive options that blend a surgeon’s skill with robotic-arm assisted technology to deliver smaller incisions, more precision, less risk of complications and a quicker recovery time.”
An example of this is the Mako® Surgery System. A major benefit of using this robot-assisted technology is that surgeons can remove only the damaged knee tissue and leave healthy tissue intact.
What to Expect Before Knee Replacement Surgery
Once you and your surgeon have worked together to decide the right treatment plan for you, you’ll likely need to make an appointment with your primary care doctor to assess your general health and clear you for the procedure. You may also need an evaluation and clearance from your dentist.
Once this step is complete, you’ll be able to schedule your knee replacement surgery appointment. You may also need a CT scan of your knee so your surgeon can more precisely customize your replacement to most naturally fit your knee anatomy and movement.
In preparation, make sure you have someone who is able to take you to your surgery appointment and be there as your caregiver after the procedure. This person will be able to drive you home, get any prescribed medications and help maintain your comfort after surgery.
Your medical team might also advise you to stop taking certain medications (such as blood thinners, NSAIDs like aspirin or other supplements) up to a week before your surgery date. You’ll also be advised to fast prior to surgery. In most cases, you can’t have anything to eat or drink (including water) after midnight on the night before your surgery.
Some other ways to prepare your home ahead of time include:
- Setting up your comfortable space for resting and elevating your leg
- Clearing the floor and pathways of fall and trip risks such as rugs
- Having ice packs frozen and ready for when you return home
What to Expect During Knee Replacement Surgery
Your exact recovery will depend on exactly what type of procedure you are having as well as your overall health. Some patients may have outpatient knee replacement surgery and go home the same day. This is especially true for minimally invasive surgical procedures. Other knee replacement procedures may require you to stay in the hospital for one or two days.
“For the procedure, you’ll first be prepped for surgery and given anesthesia,” says Dr. Alexander. “In general, knee replacement surgery itself may take about one hour to complete. Your surgeon will perform your procedure and bandage your incision. Then, you’ll be taken to a recovery room. Once you wake up from anesthesia, you’ll be given specific instructions about medications, pain management, activity restrictions, follow-up appointments and physical therapy. You’ll likely be given a walker to help you get around initially.”
What to Expect After Knee Replacement Surgery
Your surgeon will provide you with a follow-up appointment and a prescription for physical therapy. Physical therapy after surgery is essential to regain your strength and get optimal results from your knee replacement. Physical therapy usually begins immediately after surgery and may continue for up to six weeks.
“After six weeks, most knee replacements are up to 80% healed,” Dr. Alexander says. “After three months, most achieve 90% healing. By one year, most patients are back to their full, active life again with nearly complete knee function and comfort.”
Whole-Person Orthopedic Care
Our orthopedic experts at AdventHealth offer advanced knee replacement options that put your whole health first. We’ll help guide you through the process so you have the most successful knee replacement possible — and get back to doing the activities that help you thrive.