What is a knee operation?
Knee replacement surgery is performed to replace a knee joint that’s become damaged or worn with an artificial knee that does the same job. It’s a very common operation – 80,000 knee replacements are carried out every year in the UK.
When do you need a knee replacement?
Anything that damages your knee can mean you eventually need a knee replacement – these are some of the most common reasons:
- If you have osteoarthritis – the type of arthritis caused by wear and tear to the joints – your knee joint may have become so damaged it no longer functions properly. This is the most common reason for a knee op and is one of the reasons most replacements are carried out on people aged 60 to 80.
- Other inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and gout, can damage your knees.
- A knee injury, for example, as a result of playing sport, is another common reason for needing an op.
Who’s offered a knee operation?
Not everyone with knee damage will have one. It’s major surgery, so your doctor will make sure you can cope with the surgery itself and the rehab afterwards. You’ll only be offered a knee replacement if it’s really necessary – for example:
- Your knee damage is causing severe pain and it’s affecting your quality of life
- Your knee damage is stopping you doing some of the things you need to do, whether that’s working, shopping or looking after yourself properly
- You’re depressed and sleeping badly because of your pain
What happens in the operation?
You’ll have either a total knee replacement (TKR), where both sides of the joint are replaced, or a partial knee replacement (PKR), where just one side is replaced. A PKR is a smaller operation and you won’t have to spend so long in hospital.
What happens afterwards?
Most people stay in hospital for three to five days. When you go home you’ll need a frame or walking stick to help you move around for about six weeks. An occupational therapist will have assessed your home beforehand to make sure you can manage indoors. You’ll also have physiotherapy exercises to do to help your knee get stronger again – the better you stick to your physio, the faster you’re likely to recover. You should be able to drive and walk without aids after two to three months, but full recovery can take up to a year.
Are there any after effects?
Most people have no significant problems and after effects are rare. But some people experience:
- Pain and stiffness
- Blood clots (a risk with any surgery to the lower limbs)
- Infections, as an artificial joint has no way to fight bacteria
What’s the success rate?
In a survey, 80 per cent of people who’d had a knee replacement said they were satisfied. But it’s important to remember an artificial knee will never function in exactly the same way as the original – which may be why one in five people are disappointed, often due to ongoing pain and stiffness. A knee replacement usually lasts at least 10 – 15 years.