Total knee replacement is a relatively common type of orthopedic surgery with approximately 600,000 patients undergoing the procedure every year in the United States. The most common reason for needing a knee replacement is osteoarthritis in which the cartilage between the joint and bone is gradually worn away. This damage to the cartilage consequently results in swelling, stiffness and pain, and since the cartilage cannot be renewed, surgery may eventually be needed. Other relatively common reasons for needing a knee replacement include rheumatoid arthritis and direct knee trauma.
While the success rate of knee replacements is very high, this surgery is not right for everyone. However, if the answer to the following questions is yes for you, knee replacement may be the right decision.
Are You Experiencing Persistent or Recurring Pain?
While occasional knee pain can occur due to a number of causes that may or may not be serious, constant or recurring moderate-to-severe knee pain over a prolonged period of time is a sign that something is seriously wrong, and you should discuss these symptoms with your doctor or an orthopedic surgeon. If the pain is so severe that it interferes with your everyday activities, social life or even your sleep, surgery may be necessary. In addition, if you regularly experience a grating or crackling sensation in the knee, which may be accompanied by a crackling noise, your cartilage may be worn out, which also indicates that you may require surgery.
Are Your Knees Constantly Stiff and Unable To Bend?
While being a little stiff now and again is not necessarily something to worry about, if you constantly feel stiff after getting up in the morning or after having been seated or sedentary for a while and this stiffness does not subside for a very long time, you may have joint deterioration. Similarly, if you are unable to move, bend or straighten your knees in ways you previously could and if you are unable to perform everyday tasks such as walking your dog or bending to pick something up from the floor, you need to discuss this with your physician.
Have You Attempted All Other Possible Treatment Options?
As any surgery is associated with certain risks to the patient, knee replacement surgery should only be considered after all other treatment options have failed. These options include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and other oral painkillers, corticosteroid injections, exercises and physiotherapy.
However, it is important to also not wait too long to have surgery. Some studies have suggested that the outcomes of surgery are better if you do not wait until your knees get too stiff or become deformed. Earlier intervention can lead to better results, increased mobility and better quality of life compared to later intervention. On the other hand, undergoing knee replacement too early (in your 50s or earlier) can lead to the need for a second surgery down the line.
When Not To Have Knee Replacement Surgery
For older patients especially, if your general health is not well, surgery may be deemed too risky. In addition, deep or chronic skin ulcers around the knee may increase the risk of infection during and after surgery. If your thigh muscles are very weak, they may not be able to support the new joint. Make sure to discuss any concerns you have with your orthopedic surgeon.
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