Scientific American Health Alerts Guide to Knee Replacement

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What Happens During Knee Replacement

Joint replacement is called arthroplasty, and the most common type of arthroplasty is total joint replacement. In this procedure, the entire diseased or damaged knee joint is removed and replaced with an artificial one (a prosthesis) to relieve pain and restore function. Arthroplasty requires hospitalization and, usually, general anesthesia, though in some instances of knee replacement, regional anesthesia (spinal, epidural, or nerve block) may be used to numb the lower body. For most people, the surgery takes less than two hours.

For most patients, a knee arthroplasty takes less than two hours. Barring complication, surgery is usually followed up with a three- to five-day hospital stay. The surgery itself, however, is only the first step to regaining pain-free motion from your new joint. You will often stand or begin walking with a walker or crutches the day after the surgery for a knee replacement. After surgery and release from the hospital, you will need to dedicate yourself to a rehabilitation program.

If you choose to have arthroplasty, be sure to get as much information as you can about the procedure, the recovery time and the rehabilitation process. In one study, people who participated in a two-hour educational program prior to knee replacement showed markedly greater and faster improvement after surgery than did people who did not participate in the program. People in the educational program also spent an average of two days less in the hospital and required fewer sessions of physical therapy to recover fully.


More on Knee Replacement Surgery

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Knee Replacement Surgery

Knee replacement surgery is not a quick fix, and it is not without risks. Serious complications, such as blood clots and infections, can occur—but precautions can be taken to prevent or control them. In addition, the road to recovery can be difficult and time consuming, particularly with joint replacement surgery.

Is Age an Obstacle to Knee Replacement Surgery?

Some people may worry that they are too old too benefit from having a total knee replacement. But even osteoarthritis patients 75 and older appear to benefit greatly from joint replacement surgery, as a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine has indicated. Researchers followed 174 elderly patients with severe knee or hip osteoarthritis—average age 75—for 12 months, assessing them at six weeks, six months, and one year.

Minimally Invasive Knee Replacement Surgery

Surgeons continually seek ways to make joint replacements and repairs easier, safer and less arduous for the patient. A number of new techniques are currently under development.

Female Knee Replacements

Designed specifically to fit a woman’s knee, female knee replacements have been available only in recent years. Prior to 2006, when the Gender Solutions knee was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), knee replacements were unisex—designed to fit both men and women.

After Knee Replacement Surgery: Rehab and Recovery

Successful knee replacement requires a considerable investment of time and energy in rehabilitation following the surgery. Rehabilitation begins in the hospital, usually the day after surgery. During this period, a strict timetable of exercise, rest, and medication is crucial to the success of the surgery.

Resuming Physical Activities After Your Knee Replacement

If you are facing a knee replacement or have had one, you should talk to your physician about the risks of physical activity, such as a loosening or dislocation of the replacement and the possible need for a repeat surgery. Chances are, though, that a knee replacement won’t halt your golf game or drive you from the bowling lanes.


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