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What's It Like: To get knee replacement surgery

The No. 1 reason to have a knee replacement is to relieve knee pain caused by severe arthritis. The second reason would be to gain back loss of function.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: April 1, 2012

Why get knee replacement surgery?

The No. 1 reason to have a knee replacement is to relieve knee pain caused by severe arthritis. The second reason would be to gain back loss of function.

Before you can get a knee replacement surgery, doctors will try to use all other measures of repairing the knee first. These measures include anti-inflammatory medicines, certain types of injections and physical therapy. If you end up maximizing all of those options and still have considerable pain, you will likely become a candidate for knee replacement surgery.

What happens when you do it?

There is a misconception that a total knee replacement is removing the whole end of the thigh bone and whole top of the shin bone, where the knee comes together. This is misnomer.

With total knee replacement, surgeons resurface the end of the joint with a prosthesis, or artificial body part. For example, with the thigh bone, surgeons place a metal cap on the end of the thigh bone, forming part of an artificial joint.

There are bands of tissue in the knee, usually white and fibrous, that connect bones, known as ligaments. Doctors generally don't do anything to the ligaments on the outside or inside part of the knee. However, they have to sacrifice the ligaments in the middle of the knee to be able to place the prosthesis inside, which will serve the same role as the ligaments did.

Does it hurt?

With a knee replacement surgery, doctors try reducing the invasiveness of the surgery. This is one element that can help minimize pain.

Also, before and during surgery, doctors will use nerve blocks, which are anesthetic agents injected directly near a nerve to block pain, along with other types of injections in the knee during the surgery.

Typically, the pain after surgery is often less than the pain from the arthritis the person has. It's important to keep in mind that knee replacement surgery is a major surgery, but it can be tolerable with oral pain medications.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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