This article covers general information on knee joint replacement or its medical name, knee arthroplasty.

The knee joint is removed and replaced with an artificial knee joint (prosthesis). The prosthesis mimics knee functions. It is made of plastics, metal alloys and polymers.

Knee conditions that ultimately require knee joint replacement

The most common reason for doctors to recommend knee joint replacement is when a patient suffers damage from arthritis. It could be osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

Here is a refresher on both types of arthritis:

Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage wears down. It usually begins in one joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means a malfunction in the immune system, where it attacks the body instead of intruders.

Why replace the knee joint?

Your doctor will only recommend knee joint replacement after other treatments have failed. These are normally non-invasive treatments which include:

  • assistive devices, e.g., walking stick, knee brace
  • medication
  • physical therapy
  • weight loss

Key factors to determine if you need knee arthroplasty

Not everyone is eligible for knee joint replacement. Doctors evaluate each patient thoroughly for knee joint replacement.

There are some key factors to determine if you are indeed a good candidate for this type of surgery. These factors include:

  • your age
  • your overall health condition
  • deformed or bow legs
  • how much your knee pain affects your daily activities (e.g., walking or going up and down the stairs)

It should be noted that knee joint replacement surgery is normally performed on patients over the age of 55. Younger people who have the surgery may need to have repeat surgery, due to the wear and tear of the artificial knee joints.

Pre-surgery procedures

If you are a suitable patient for knee joint replacement, you will be given a pre-surgery assessment which includes anaesthesia risks.

A patient will have to disclose all medications and over-the-counter supplements he or she is taking. The doctor or surgeon may ask to stop taking some of the items before surgery.

Patients need to prepare certain areas of their home before surgery as well, mainly for the sake of personal safety.

These preparations should include:

  • A good footrest to elevate your leg, to relieve some pressure.
  • If your bedroom is on an upper floor, consider converting a room on the ground floor into your bedroom so as to avoid using the staircase.
  • Installing shower and toilet handles and having non-slip bath mats in the bath area to prevent slips or falls.

The surgery

Surgery lasts for about two hours. Surgeons will remove damaged cartilage and bone. A new knee joint will be fixed to the femur (the thigh bone) and tibia (the main bone in the lower leg) using surgical cement, pins and screws. The incision will be closed and bandaged.

Post-surgery

Your leg will definitely feel stiff after the surgery. There will be pain but it varies patient to patient. Pain medication will be given according to the individual’s pain threshold.

Be prepared to start physical therapy on the day of surgery itself or the next day. This is to promote good blood circulation to the tissues surrounding the new knee joint.

Your leg may be put on a continuous passive-motion machine that makes your knee move in a gentle bending motion.

Your surgeon will determine when you can be discharged, and provide you an individually based physical therapy program. Do note that while the surgery takes about two hours, recovery and rehabilitation can take up to several months.

Common complications arising from knee arthroplasty

Any surgery, minor or major, carries some risks. A patient may have blood clots, bleeding or infection. Here again, the percentage of patients having complications depends on the individual’s current health condition.

The common complications due to knee arthroplasty include:

  • blood clots – this could lead to a heart attack or stroke
  • bleeding
  • reactions from anaesthesia
  • leg or knee stiffness
  • nerve damage
  • infection*

*If the artificial knee joint becomes infected, surgeons may have to remove part or the whole artificial knee joint, and treat the infection; before putting it back in.

Lastly, depending on the usage, the artificial knee will wear out over time and need replacement surgery.

Conclusion: Having knee joint replacement relieves a person of knee pain, and allows him or her better knee flexibility to lead a fairly normal pain-free life. Not all people are good candidates for knee arthroplasty; your doctor or surgeon must determine if the surgery is suitable for you.

The general information provided in this article should not be taken as medical advice. Readers are advised to refer to their doctor for proper medical information on knee arthroplasty.

By Aaron
7th January 2021 23:00

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