Every surgery has benefits and drawbacks, and knee replacement is no different. Knee replacement is one of the safest and most effective orthopedic procedures available today. Newer non-invasive techniques means that you will likely be up and walking on the same day of your procedure.
Perhaps that’s why more than 750,000 Americans choose to have knee replacement every year. These patients all probably weighed the advantages and disadvantages of knee replacement. Clearly, they felt like the benefits overcame any risks associated with the surgery. Let’s look at the pros and cons of knee replacement to see if it might be right for you.
What Is Knee Replacement?
Knee replacement surgery removes the worn out joint surface and replaces it with a prosthetic knee that functions just like the real thing. Many times, patients suffer for years from debilitating arthritis pain in their knees. They choose to replace the knee joint to eliminate their pain and regain normal functioning that lets them enjoy life again.
Let’s talk about the knee for a moment. Think of all the weight, pivoting, stress, and strain this large joint undergoes over years of activities. The knee is the largest joint in the body and they need to be healthy for you to go through even the most normal daily activities such as standing up from a chair or going up the stairs. Because the joint is so large and has so many moving parts, over time, there are lots of things that can go wrong. Disease and injury can disrupt the function of this joint, causing pain, weakness, and limitations on your ability to function.
If you’ve been struggling with mobility issues related to bad knees, you know that there is a gradual decline in the joint over time. Nonsurgical treatments such as over-the-counter pain relievers can progress to steroid treatments. You may try physical therapy or prescription pain relief. Icing and elevation may help swelling for a time.
Ultimately, the joint can simply wear out. Common ailments that afflict the knee include:
Osteoarthritis is a wear and tear illness that inflames the joint, usually after age 50
Post-traumatic arthritis after knee injury
Rheumatoid arthritis that afflicts the fluid around the joint
When nonsurgical options have been exhausted, it’s time to consider knee replacement surgery to stop the pain and restore your mobility.
What Are the Advantages to Knee Replacement?
Knee replacement has two primary advantages: It can reduce the arthritis pain you feel and increase your mobility. One year after the surgery, many patients say they experience significant improvements in multiple areas, including:
Knee replacement surgical techniques have improved over the years so that these surgeries can now be performed in an outpatient setting. There are several documented advantages to outpatient knee replacement, including:
Another advantage is that these surgeries are highly effective at reducing pain. 90% of people that have the surgery say their pain diminished afterwards. With the pain gone and the limb working again, you can return to walking, golfing, and going up and down stairs. Even better, once you have the surgery you rarely need it again; more than 90% of artificial knees still function 20-years later.
Ultimately, the advantages of this once-in-a-lifetime surgery are a higher quality of life, better mobility, and less pain. For many of us, these advantages are worth considering knee replacement. However, it’s important for your doctor to also discuss any possible drawbacks of knee replacement. We want you to go in with your eyes wide open when considering your surgical options.
Are There Any Disadvantages to Knee Replacement?
The disadvantages of knee replacement come from the risk of surgery itself. Complications stemming from knee replacement are exceedingly rare, affecting just 2% of the entire knee surgery patient pool.
Some risks of knee surgery include:
Blood clots, which can develop after any surgery, break off, and cause life-threatening illnesses
Infection occurring at the incision site; however, most patients receive antibiotics before and after surgery to lessen this risk
Osteolysis, which is infection and destruction of bone caused by microscopic plastic particles from the prosthetic knee
Occasional flare-ups of pain, or pain that never lessens following the surgery
Stiffness from the scar tissue that forms over the knee after surgery
If you are undergoing your knee replacement at an outpatient surgery center, there are additional steps necessary to keep you comfortable while you’re at home. Postoperative care will require that you get some extra help—at least at first. For example:
You’ll need someone to drive you home and stay with you for a few days to help you get around
You may experience pain and nausea as you’re healing
You will have limited mobility for a time
You may experience post-surgical complications
In rare cases we also have seen knee replacement revision surgeries. These occur when the first prosthetic knee wears out and a second surgery is needed. About 5% of knee surgery candidates may fall into this category within the first 20 years after their first surgery. Infection, pain, or the joint coming loose could also lead to a second surgery.
We should note that not everyone qualifies for knee replacement. However, if you are in good health and suffering from debilitating knee pain, this surgery can provide you with significant benefits.