The knee is a complicated joint that takes a lot of stress and strain throughout our lives. As you run you put huge weight loads through your knee, multiple times your bodyweight due to the impact against the hard surface of the floor. Playing sports like football, rugby, or tennis, we twist the knee as we shift our feet, sending torque through the joint. And we walk, squat, kneel down, sit cross legged, throughout regular activities. Little wonder that knee replacement surgery is seen as a routine operation, for those in their 60s and older, and is now more commonplace in younger people too according to the NHS.
Why have Knee Replacement Surgery?
If you’re having problems with your knee that are severe and impacting your daily life, and physiotherapy and other treatment options are not effective, your doctor may recommend you undergo knee replacement surgery. You might need a knee replacement if you have experienced the following:
- Osteoarthritis in the knee
- Knee injury
- Loss of cartilage around the knee joint
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Bone dysplasia (abnormal bone growth around the knee joint)
This list is not exhaustive and there could be other reasons for you to undergo knee replacement surgery.
Types Of Knee Replacement Surgery
There are two types of knee replacement surgery, and which you undergo will depend on the severity of the damage to your knee. In both instances an artificial joint is inserted into the body to replace the damaged joint, but they differ in the extent of their replacement. The knee consists of three different compartments:
- Medial compartment (the inside of the knee)
- Lateral compartment (outside the knee)
- Patellofemoral compartment (the front of the knee)
If damage is only present in one of the compartments then a partial knee replacement may be carried out, whereas damage to all compartments will likely require a full replacement.
Damaged bone and cartilage is cut away from the thigh, shin, and kneecap and is then replaced with a prosthetic joint made of metal alloy, plastic and polymer. These joints usually last over 15 years, although in some instances they can fail and a further knee replacement may be required.
Total Knee Replacement Surgery
As its name implies, total knee replacement surgery involves removing damaged or diseased areas of bone and/or cartilage around the entire knee joint and then resurfacing the joint with an entirely new artificial knee joint.
Although total knee replacement surgery is more invasive for the patient, generally requires longer rehabilitation, and is a more costly operation, it has been shown to be 3 times less likely to fail than a partial knee replacement, and so reduces the risks of the patient requiring further operations.
Partial Knee Replacement Surgery
Partial knee replacement involves repairing a damaged compartment and then inserting a small joint implant in that area. Partial knee replacement surgery is generally less invasive and patients often have faster recovery times.
A study published in the British Medical Journal revealed that while partial knee replacement surgery resulted in much shorter hospital stays they were also more likely to require follow-up revision surgery to correct problems or failures in the replacement joint.
Recovery From Knee Replacement Surgery
Knee replacement surgery is usually carried out under general anaesthetic, though some procedures can be carried out using spinal anaesthetic leaving you awake during the operation but unable to feel anything.
After the surgery you’ll typically spend three to five days in hospital. People who undergo a partial knee replacement will often be discharged before those who have had a full knee replacement, however recovery and discharge times are dependent on the individual.
While you’re in hospital you’ll be assessed by a doctor and given a series of exercises to do that will help build strength and mobility back in the knee. These are important in the immediate aftermath of surgery to stop blood clots and help reduce swelling.
A physiotherapist will teach you specific exercises to be carried out at home to help restore function in your knee. As your recovery continues your progress will be monitored by a physiotherapist.
The NHS has an excellent guide detailing recovery from knee replacement surgery, part of which includes using ice packs to help reduce swelling. Icing has to be done carefully and for no longer than 20 minutes at a time with the same amount of time between icing to avoid ice burn and nerve damage. However, our cooling bandages can be applied to the skin for hours at a time, and you can even top up the coolant while the bandage is in place. Our knee surgery recovery bundle includes three bottles of coolant, which will give you hours of cooling relief to help reduce swelling and pain around your knee.
At first moving about will be hard and you’ll need to use a frame or crutches but most people are able to walk unaided after 6 weeks. Full recovery from knee replacement surgery can take up to two years, but for most people the recovery time is well worth the improvements to their quality of life that follow a knee replacement surgery.
Some injuries can be self-treated whilst others require prompt medical attention. You should seek advice from a health professional if: the injury causes severe pain, swelling, or numbness; you can't tolerate weight on the area; the pain or dull ache of an old injury is accompanied by increased swelling or joint abnormality or instability.