When Should You Consult a Doctor for Knee Replacement Surgery - Orthopedics

What is knee replacement surgery?
Quite simply put, knee replacement surgery or knee arthroplasty is a procedure to help resurface a kneecap that has been damaged due to arthritis. The knee is where the thigh and shin bones meet and are held together by groups of muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Damage to these parts can eventually lead to wear and tear of the knee joint which leads to knee pain.

Reasons for knee replacement surgery
In most cases, it is some form of arthritis that can lead to joint damage in the knee, namely Osteoarthritis, which leads to the degradation of joint cartilage. In such cases, the movement of the joint becomes limited and many day-to-day activities such as climbing stairs or walking may become painful due to the inability to bend the knee all the way. This leads to severe pain and can cause the kneecap to swell up. 

Even without any history of arthritis, knee replacement surgeries may be needed due to irreparable damage to the knee joint. This may be the case for many sportspeople, gym goers, and people who work around heavy and/or dangerous objects/machinery amongst others. People in such situations are also prone to fractures, torn ligaments, and cartilage that may not be repaired.

In some cases, knee replacement surgery is essential to correct a particular deformity, such as knock knees to help restore the position of the knee.

Types of replacements
There are 5 broad categories of knee replacement surgery. These are:

Total Knee Replacement: In this case, the surgeon will replace the surface of the thigh and shin bones that connect to the knee.
Partial Knee Replacement: When arthritis affects just one part of your knee then this may be a possible method. However, you must have strong ligaments and tendons and the rest of the knee is normal and healthy enough.
Patellofemoral Replacement: In this case, only the underside of the kneecap and the groove in which it sits is replaced. This method has been proven effective in treating chronic kneecap arthritis.
Complex or Revision Knee Replacement:  Such a surgery occurs only if you’ve had knee replacement surgeries before or have severe arthritis, due to major bone loss or deformity of the knee.
Cartilage Restoration:  In cases where damage to the knee is relatively isolated or minimal, the area can be replaced with a graft of living cartilage which grows into cartilage. 

Knee replacement surgeries have been conducted since the 1970s and current-day knee implants have a life of at least 20 years and are expected to grow as time and medical technology improve.

When should you consult a doctor for knee replacement surgery?

Consult your doctor for knee replacement surgery if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent and severe knee pain
  • Daily activities such as walking or climbing stairs become difficult and painful
  • The knees become either stiff or swollen or both
  • You can see your knee bending inwards or outwards

You must also consult your doctor for a knee replacement surgery when the medications or other treatments for arthritis prescribed to you don’t work for your knees anymore and show the above symptoms. 

Based on your symptoms and their severity the doctor will first recommend other medical treatment options before recommending surgery. Some of these options include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Glucosamine and Chondroitin sulfate
  • Strong painkillers
  • Minimizing activities that cause pain
  • Assisted walking devices such as a cane or walker
  • Physiotherapy
  • Cortisone injections
  • Visco supplementation injections to allow for better lubrication in the joint
  • Weight loss

Knee replacement surgery can be expensive and risky as well. Consult with a trusted doctor and medical specialist while discussing treatment options and know what the best treatment option for you is. Make sure to ask your doctor all doubts you may have to be better prepared for the procedure should they recommend it. Some questions you may ask them are:

  • Is there any harm in waiting?
  • What are some other treatment options available?
  • What is the best surgery for my condition?
  • How much will it cost?
  • What can I do to help make the surgery as successful for me as possible?
  • What precautions should I take before and after the surgery?
  • What are the risks and complications associated with it?
  • By when can I resume my normal life post-surgery?

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