Patient Information

What is knee replacement?

What is knee replacement? — Knee replacement is a type of surgery in which a doctor replaces parts of a person’s knee joint with man-made parts.

The knee joint is made up of the lower part of the thigh bone, the knee cap, and the top part of the lower leg bone (figure 1).

When people have problems with their knee joint, the knee can be painful, swollen, stiff, or have trouble moving normally. Different conditions can cause problems with the knee joint. One of the most common causes is osteoarthritis, a type of arthritis that often comes with age.

Knee replacement is a treatment that can reduce knee pain and improve the way the knee works.

When are knee problems treated with knee replacement? — Knee problems might or might not be treated with knee replacement right away. Doctors sometimes suggest trying other treatments first. These can include weight loss, medicines, knee braces, or physical therapy. If these treatments do not help enough, doctors then suggest knee replacement.

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What happens during knee replacement surgery? — Knee replacement takes place in an operating room in a hospital. A doctor will give you medicines to make you sleep and to numb your body. Then your doctor will make a cut down the center on the front of the knee. He or she will replace parts of your knee joint with man-made parts made out of metal, ceramic, or plastic.

What happens after surgery? — After surgery, most people stay in the hospital for 2 to 4 days. While you are in the hospital, you will get:

  • Medicines to treat your pain
  • Antibiotic medicines to prevent infections
  • Medicines to prevent blood clots in the legs
  • Special boots or stockings to prevent blood clots in the legs
  • Physical therapy – Most people are able to stand and walk (with help) within 1 day after surgery. The physical therapist will teach you exercises to make the muscles in your leg stronger. He or she will also work with you on bending, walking, and climbing stairs so that you can move normally.
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What problems can people have from knee replacement? — People can have different problems right after knee replacement surgery, but serious problems are uncommon. Problems from knee replacement can include:

  • Blood clots in the legs – This can cause leg pain and swelling.
  • Infections – Symptoms of an infection can include fever, chills, pain in the knee that gets worse and worse, or knee swelling.

If you have any of these symptoms, let your doctor or nurse know.

Where do I go after I leave the hospital? — Many people go home. But some people stay in a nursing home or rehabilitation facility for a short time in order to get stronger before going home. Wherever you go, you will need to do your exercises and have physical therapy.

When will I be able to do my usual activities again? — Most people can do their usual activities again within 3 to 6 weeks of knee replacement. Your doctor or nurse will tell you if there are any activities that you should avoid.

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How do I know if knee replacement is right for me? — To help you decide if knee replacement is right for you, talk with your doctor or nurse. You can ask him or her:

  • What are the benefits of knee replacement?
  • What are the downsides to knee replacement?
  • Are there other options besides knee replacement?
  • What happens if I do not have knee replacement?