If you suffer from an arthritic knee, replacement surgery is an elective option among other treatments to consider. The condition is not life threatening, but in cases of extreme pain or inability to walk this might be your only solution to restore your quality of life.
The following straightforward guide will give you the key information about knee replacement surgery so that you can decide for yourself whether this option is the right decision to make.
Facts to Weigh
Unfortunately, knee arthritis does not improve given time, it will generally get worse. Courses of action such as special diets, vitamins (calcium included), exercises or other measures such as copper bracelets will not help either.
The rate of knee deterioration from arthritis varies according to each individual. For some, the pain might become unbearable after 6 months, for others it could be tolerable for years until it gets worse enough to prompt you to consider a replacement operation.
More than 96% of patients who have undergone knee replacement surgery have no major complications. If your condition is causing serious discomfort and other treatments recommended by your doctor are not working, you might want to consider having the operation sooner rather than later. This is because the longer your arthritis keeps you inactive, the more your muscles weaken and your bones soften, making your recovery more difficult.
You will be given either general, spinal or epidural (numb below the waist) anaesthesia, meaning you will not feel the surgery taking place. An 8-12 inch cut will then be made at the front of your knee so that the damaged section of your joint can be removed. The surgeon will thereafter proceed to shape the surface of your bones to hold a plastic or metal joint. This artificial joint is fitted into your shin, thigh bone and knee cap with either cement or another specially made material. Once this is done, the attached artificial parts creates your new fully functioning joint, using the surrounding ligaments and muscles for support and flexibility of movement.
Generally, you will require a hospital stay of 3-5 days when having a knee replacement operation. You’ll be able to stand and move the new joint the day after the procedure. Soon you will be able to walk with the help of a walker, crutch or cane to support your body weight as you heal. Most people are up and about with minimal assistance after 6 weeks. Regular physical therapy will restore your muscle strength to optimal health. The majority of patients who have undergone a knee joint replacement operation can expect a dramatic improvement anytime from a month after the procedure.
The good news is that the evolution of minimally invasive surgery (MIS) is revolutionising many areas of medicine, knee replacement surgery included. What this amounts to is the use of specialised instruments and techniques that allow the surgeon to perform the procedure without having to make a large, intrusive incision. MIS knee joint replacement requires an incision of only three to five inches, which results in fewer traumas to body tissue and thus faster recovery. The surgeon can work between your muscles fibres rather than having to cut through tendons, which also means less scar tissue, allowing for better mobility. At present, MIS surgery is not widely available however, and research comparing it to traditional surgery is still being carried out.
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, an arthritic knee is not life threatening, so it is entirely your decision as to whether you feel knee replacement surgery is the correct course of action for you.
All in all, if you find that your condition is causing a severe loss of movement then it’s recommended you thoroughly discuss this option with your doctor.
Angela Cilano is a medical researcher and knee replacement consultant.