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What is a Knee Replacement?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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A knee replacement is a medical procedure designed to remove damaged cartilage and bone from around the knee joint and replace it with a prosthetic. The surgery can be either a total knee replacement or a partial knee replacement, depending on the extent of the damage. While the procedure is very common, it can be a very major ordeal for the patient, both during the knee surgery and during the recovery.

The goal of a knee replacement is to relieve the pain caused by scar tissue and deterioration in the knee. The surgery is more common in those over the age of 55, as time tends to take its toll on the body's joints. Once the surgery is completed, the patient will usually spend three to five days in the hospital followed by a substantial recovery period.

The recovery period will consist of going to a physical therapist, and perhaps on occupational therapist, to learn how to do some daily tasks. The physical therapist will work with the patient to regain mobility in simple tasks, such as walking and climbing stairs. Unassisted walking, meaning without the aid of a person, walker or crutches, usually takes anywhere between four and six weeks. Returning to work takes between four and ten weeks, though the time may vary slightly depending on the type of job the patient has and the physical demands it puts on the knee.

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The major goal of knee replacement surgery is not to increase mobility, but to reduce everyday pain. In fact, it is probably very likely that a patient will never regain full mobility to the extent that high-impact activities, such as jogging, are going to be possible. While medical advancements are being made that increase the activities that can be done after knee replacement surgery, patients should consult their doctor before undergoing such high impact activities.

While the overall goal is to relieve pain in the knee joint, the surgery will, as a matter of necessity, make the area tender for anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. Some patients even report pain resulting from the surgery well after this period. It is important to remember to take any pain medication prescribed so that the knee can still be rehabilitated according to the schedule laid out. If pain continues much after two weeks, consult your doctor.

While there are cases when the prosthetics in a knee replacement will wear out over time, the vast majority of people who undergo the procedure never need to have it done again. However, the durability of the replacement pieces is largely dependent on the amount of stress they are asked to endure over time. This is why doctors are more prone to try other alternatives before choosing surgery for younger patients.

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