What are the Different Types of Surgery for Knee Pain?

Jami Yontz

The knee is one of the most easily injured parts of the body, as the joint is used for almost every physical activity and is a complicated joint that moves and rotates in many directions. Overuse, arthritis and injuries from sports are the most common causes of pain. When surgery is required, the type of surgery performed depends on the severity and type of pain. Some types of surgery for knee pain include arthroscopy, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction, and patellar tendon repair, all of which focus on repairing tendons and joints or on stabilizing parts of the knee. Other surgery options for more severe cases include partial knee replacement and total knee replacement.

An anterior view of the right knee.
An anterior view of the right knee.

Arthroscopy is a type of surgery for knee pain that repairs ligaments, joints or bone. A small scope attached to an instrument is inserted through an incision so the surgeon can view the area to repair. Small cuts are made around the knee joint to insert additional instruments to aid the surgeon. Some arthroscopy procedures include a meniscus repair or transplant, a lateral release to correct a dislocated patella, a plica excision, ligament grafts and procedures to smooth the surface of the bones in the knee joint.

A man with a twisted knee.
A man with a twisted knee.

The ACL is a ligament that is located in the middle of the knee joint and acts as a stabilizer for the knee. Using a tissue graft, the ligament is replaced by pulling the graft through holes that have been made in the joint where the original ACL ligament was attached. Screws are inserted to bind the ligament and hold it in the correct place so it heals correctly. An ACL reconstruction surgery for knee pain may require a one-year recovery process, but it has a high success rate and greatly improves a person’s chance of returning to normal physical activity.

A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.
A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.

Another type of surgery for knee pain is a patellar tendon repair. The patellar tendon connects the patella to the tibia and allows a person to fully extend or straighten his or her knee. If the tendon is torn, surgery is almost always required, as the person would be unable to stand with a straight leg. The repair is done by creating a small incision on the front of the knee cap and then sewing or reconnecting the tendon.

A partial knee replacement is a procedure for a patient who only has damage or deterioration in part or one side of the knee joint. It is less invasive than a total knee replacement and requires much less recovery time. This type of knee surgery usually replaces the surface of the femur and tibia, and allows the person to retain the surrounding ligaments and cartilage.

The most invasive type of surgery for knee pain is a total knee replacement, and it is only performed on patients with widespread arthritis or severe injuries. In a knee replacement surgery, the damaged bones, tendons and tissues are removed and a metal and plastic knee joint prosthesis is implanted. Sometimes the surgeon will also replace the surface of the kneecap. The new material will eventually wear down from activity, so knee replacement surgery is uncommon in younger patients.

The type of surgery required to fix a knee depends on the severity and type of knee problem present.
The type of surgery required to fix a knee depends on the severity and type of knee problem present.

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