What is total knee replacement surgery?

Total Knee Replacement Surgery
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Total knee replacement surgery: Overview

A total knee replacement replaces the worn ends of the bones where they meet at the knee. Those bones are the thighbone (femur) and the lower leg bone (tibia). Your doctor will remove the damaged bone. Then your doctor will replace it with plastic and metal parts. These new parts may be attached to your bones with cement.

Your doctor will make a cut down the center of your knee. This cut is called an incision. It will be several inches long. Sometimes the surgery can be done with a smaller incision. Both kinds of incisions leave scars that usually fade with time.

Your doctor will let you know if you will stay in the hospital or if you can go home the day of surgery. If you have both knees done at the same time, you may need to be in the hospital for a few days.

Most people go back to normal activities or work in 4 to 16 weeks. This depends on your health. It also depends on how well your knee does in your rehab program. This may take longer if you have both knees done at the same time.

Caring for yourself after total knee replacement surgery

Here are some things you can do to care for yourself at home after a total knee replacement.

  • Rest when you feel tired.

    But don't stay in bed all day.

  • Use ice or a cold pack to reduce pain and swelling.

    Ice the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.

  • Work with your physical therapist to find the best way to exercise.
  • Don't sit for more than 1 hour at a time.

    Get up and walk around.

  • Drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
  • Eat healthy foods, and watch your portion sizes.
  • Try to stay at a healthy weight.

    Too much weight puts more stress on your new knee.

  • Take medicines as prescribed.

    Follow your doctor's instructions about restarting your medicines and taking new medicines.

  • Follow instructions about caring for your cut (incision).

How well does total knee replacement surgery work?

Most people have a lot less pain after surgery and can do many of their daily activities more easily. Over time, the artificial joint may wear out and need to be replaced. This is more likely if you're younger or overweight. Most knee replacements (about 90 out of 100) last about 20 years.

How long does total knee replacement surgery take?

The surgery may take about 2 to 3 hours.

How do you prepare for total knee replacement surgery?

Before your surgery, be sure you understand the risks, benefits, and other treatment options. Tell your doctors all the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some of these can increase the risk of bleeding or interact with anesthesia. Your doctor will tell you which medicines you should take or stop before surgery.

What is total knee replacement surgery?

This surgery is used to replace the worn ends of the thighbone (femur) and the lower leg bone (tibia) where they meet at the knee. Sometimes the kneecap surface is replaced. This surgery may be done when medicine and other treatments no longer help arthritis knee pain and the pain interferes with your life.

Total knee replacement: What happens when you come out of surgery?

After surgery, you'll probably have an I.V. to give you fluids and a drain tube near your incision. You may get medicines to help with an upset stomach and constipation, which are common. Most people get up with help within a day after surgery.

After a total knee replacement: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.
  • You have signs of a blood clot, such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.
  • Your incision comes open and begins to bleed, or the bleeding increases.
  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not have a bowel movement after taking a laxative.

What can you expect as you recover from total knee replacement surgery?

After the surgery, you'll start rehabilitation (rehab) to help improve strength and movement in your knee. You'll have some pain and swelling in the knee and will need to take pain medicine for a while. After you recover, you should be able to do activities such as take walks, dance, or bike.

After total knee replacement surgery: Overview

You had a total knee replacement. The doctor replaced the worn ends of the bones that connect to your knee (thighbone and lower leg bone) with plastic and metal parts.

When you leave the hospital, you should be able to move around with a walker or crutches. But you will need someone to help you at home until you have more energy and can move around better.

You will go home with a bandage and stitches, staples, skin glue, or tape strips. Change the bandage as your doctor tells you to. If you have stitches or staples, your doctor will remove them about 2 weeks after your surgery. Glue or tape strips will fall off on their own over time. You may still have some mild pain, and the area may be swollen for a few months after surgery.

Your knee will continue to improve for up to a year. You will probably use a walker for some time after surgery. When you are ready, you can use a cane. You may be able to walk without support after a couple weeks, or when you are comfortable.

You will need to do months of physical rehabilitation (rehab) after a knee replacement. Rehab will help you strengthen the muscles of the knee and help you regain movement. After you recover, your artificial knee will allow you to do normal daily activities with less pain or no pain at all. You may be able to hike, dance, or ride a bike. Talk to your doctor about whether you can do more strenuous activities. Always tell your caregivers that you have an artificial knee.

How long it will take to walk on your own, return to normal activities, and go back to work depends on your health and how well your rehabilitation (rehab) program goes. The better you do with your rehab exercises, the quicker you will get your strength and movement back.

How is total knee replacement surgery done?

Your doctor makes a cut, or incision, on the front of your knee. Then the doctor replaces the damaged part of your femur and tibia with metal pieces and a plastic surface. Part of your kneecap may be replaced with plastic. The cut is closed with stitches, staples, or special tape or glue.

What happens on the day of your total knee replacement surgery?

Follow any instructions about when to stop eating and drinking. Shower or bathe, but don't put on lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish. Don't shave the surgical site yourself. At the hospital, you'll be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. The surgery will take about 2 to 3 hours.

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