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What is Knee Joint Replacement?

By Steve R.
Updated May 17, 2024
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More than 250,000 Americans undergo knee joint replacement surgery annually, since the surgery became popular in the 1970s. A person typically undergoes knee replacement surgery because of severe arthritis or when he is unable to carry out simple activities and all other methods of treatment have failed. The operation entails replacing the knee joint with a metal or plastic joint, known as a prosthesis. Typically, a person who undergoes knee surgery is out of the hospital within five days and is able to stand and walk around one day after the operation.

Also known as knee arthoplasty, knee joint replacement surgery is performed under general anesthesia or an epidural anesthesia. Once the anesthesia kicks in, the surgeon makes an incision in the knee. After the bad portions surrounding the knee are taken out, the surgeon then attaches the prosthesis to the patient's thigh and shin bones. During the surgery, the surgeon will attach the prosthesis with a bone cement.

Artificial knees are typically made of two pieces. One piece is made of cobalt-chrome or titanium, while the other is made of a plastic material. The prosthesis makes up the new joint, which depends on the adjacent muscles and ligaments for support. A patient who undergoes knee joint replacement can expect the new joint to last 15 to 20 years.

While knee joint replacement surgery is fairly common, some complications may arise. As movement is limited after the operation, blood clots may develop. To prevent this from occurring, a doctor will often prescribe blood thinners. Another common problem is that the new prosthesis can cause severe pain in the new joint.

Other problems that may be associated with knee joint replacement surgery may include infection and weight gain, as movement is limited. Also, portions of bone marrow fat may break off and enter the lungs, which may lead to respiratory ailments. Due to swelling, nerves around the knee area may swell, leading to numbness.

In most cases, surgery relieves pain in the joint for many patients. Rehabilitation varies for each patient. After surgery, patients will need to refrain from pivoting on their operated knee for a minimum of six weeks. While recuperating, a patient will also need to keep his knee as even and level as possible. After surgery, the patient also will be required to refrain from kneeling and squatting.

During recovery, the patient will generally undergo physical therapy. Initially after surgery, a person will need to walk with the assistance of some type of device until the knee is cable of supporting that individual’s full weight. Once muscle strength returns, an individual who underwent knee replacement surgery will be able to return to most of his m activities.

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