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Table of contents
- What is knee replacement surgery?
- What are the signs that I need knee replacement surgery?
- When should I seek treatment for my knee?
- What does knee replacement surgery involve?
- How long does knee replacement surgery take?
- How long will I be in hospital?
- What are the results of knee replacement surgery?
- What are the risks and complications of knee replacement surgery?
- Pre-operative assessment
What is knee replacement surgery?
Total knee replacements are a very successful procedure, but before operating other measures are usually tried first. These include rest or reduced activity, pain-relieving medication, anti-inflammatory medication (if no contra-indications), physiotherapy and weight loss. A steroid injection can give temporary relief and a limited number of people can benefit from more minor arthroscopic (keyhole) procedures.
What are the signs that I need knee replacement surgery?
An X-ray may reveal a number of issues, including bone touching bone with no remaining cartilage, extra bone lumps around the joint (osteophytes), cavities or cysts in the bone (geodes) or the hardening of arthritic bone (sclerosis).
If you experience any of the symptoms listed below and you are not treated, you run the risk of the following problems:
- Weakened muscles and ligaments of the knee
- Deformity of the area outside the knee joint
- Limited mobility due to chronic pain and loss of function
- Continued degeneration of the knee joint
- Reduced success rate of any future surgery
When should I seek treatment for my knee?
For many people, only a knee replacement can provide good pain relief.
If you experience any of the following symptoms you may need knee replacement surgery:
- Severe pain or stiffness
- Chronic knee inflammation and swelling
- Knee deformity and loss of function
- Pain at rest and pain at night
- ‘Bowing’ of the leg
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs no longer provide relief from pain
What does knee replacement surgery involve?
Knee replacements are called knee arthroplasty and are a resurfacing procedure. In osteoarthritis, trauma and inflammatory arthritis, the smooth, low-friction, cartilage that cushions the joint is lost. In knee replacement surgery the damaged surfaces are removed and the thigh bone surface is covered with a smooth metal dome. The shin bone surface is covered with a metal tray into which fits a medical-grade plastic spacer that then functions as the smooth bearing surface on which the thigh bone glides. The patella can also be resurfaced with a plastic button.
How long does knee replacement surgery take?
Surgery can take between one and two hours and is usually carried out with a spinal anaesthetic. Patients can also have a short-lasting intravenous sedative, so they snooze during the procedure, but recovery is enhanced having avoided a full general anaesthetic.
How long will I be in hospital?
We practice the Enhanced Recovery Pathway (ERP), which is a modern, evidence-based approach that helps people recover more quickly after having major surgery. Our physiotherapists begin working closely with patients within hours of joint replacement surgery, getting them up on their feet and growing their confidence. The length of stay at our hospital can be significantly shorter as a result. Early mobilisation and a return home reduces the risk of deep vein thrombosis and infections, as well as making patients feel more comfortable. With this support you will be mobile enough to go home as early as the day after your operation. You will be given exercises and instructions on how to use mobility aids such as crutches and sticks.
What are the results of knee replacement surgery?
You will need to rest when you return home and you are likely to feel tired in the first six weeks. Pain relief (analgesia), icepacks, elevation and a programme of rehabilitation are normal. By 10 to 12 weeks most patients are doing well, though knee replacements often improve for up to 18 months after surgery.
What are the risks and complications of knee replacement surgery?
With any major surgery it must be remembered that there is a small risk of complication, but these are always discussed in detail with you beforehand. Programmes of care and hospital routines are regularly revised to minimise these occurrences, which mean that issues such as pulmonary embolism and deep infection are rare.
After a total knee replacement the knee will always feel a little mechanical. Proprioception (natural stability) can be reduced in some situations but a good functional range of movement is the norm. For the vast majority of patients a knee replacement is the most effective procedure for providing pain relief for an arthritic knee.
A pre-operative assessment is our opportunity to ensure that the procedure for which you have been referred is right for you. We’ll explain your treatment to you and make sure that you are well enough to go ahead with it. It is also your opportunity to meet the team who will care for you and to ask any questions.
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