Did your doctor say you need total knee replacement surgery, or TKR? You should know what to expect so check out my guide to knee replacement, based on my experiences.
Every year, over 600,000 people in the U.S. get a TKR, or total knee replacement.
The words "total knee replacement" might sound intimidating. But this procedure has an incredibly positive list of results. More than 90 percent of the people who get one experience less pain. A TKR can help restore your quality of life, range of motion, and more.
If your doctor recommends a knee replacement, you'll want to know what you should expect. In this essential guide to TKR, I'll help you understand everything you need to know about the process. With this information, you might even start to feel excited about how the surgery will change your life.
Keep reading to get all your TKR questions answered!
Who Should Get a TKR?
If you have arthritis, you may very well be a candidate for TKR. Arthritis is the most common reason to get a knee replacement. However, some people may also need one following a serious knee injury (which can actually also cause arthritis).
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that affects the membranes around your joints. These inflamed membranes can make joint movement painful and reduce your range of motion. Over time, the cartilage of the joint can become damaged and even worn away.
Osteoarthritis happens as a result of getting older. Over time, your joints sustain more wear. This can happen faster due to sports, being overweight, and other factors. But wear and tear is natural for all of us as we age.
With osteoarthritis, the cartilage around the knees starts to wear out. After a while, the cushion of cartilage can no longer protect your bones, and you'll start to feel pain.
Finally, post-traumatic arthritis happens after an injury. If you had a bone fracture on or near your knee, bone fragments or other issues can start to damage the cartilage, resulting in the same symptoms as other types of arthritis.
The Total Knee Replacement Process
Now, let's take a look at the entire TKR process from start to finish.
First, your doctor will need to decide that you're a good candidate for a total knee replacement.
Not all knee issues mean you need to get a TKR. Many people can do well with medications or therapy, as well as less-invasive knee procedures.
First, you'll likely get referred to an orthopedic surgeon for a diagnosis. They'll go over your medical history and perform an exam. If it looks like a TKR may be in order, an x-ray is typically the next step.
X-rays will clearly show any knee arthritis that you have. You'll probably need to stand up for the x-ray, so your physician can see exactly what kind of strain your knee is under on a daily basis. This will help them see which kind of knee replacement option might work best.
2. Other Options
Most of the time, the orthopedic surgeon will recommend that you try a few less-invasive options before a TKR.
TKRs comes with many benefits for the people who get them. But they do come with a fair amount of recovery time, and can be an added expense depending on your insurance coverage. That's why people often see how far they can get with other treatments first.
Those other treatments can include medication, physical therapy, and partial knee replacement or other minimally-invasive procedures. You might also be encouraged to try walking with a cane. If you're overweight, weight loss can help reduce your knee problems without surgery, too.
After you've tried a few of these options, if you still have pain, a TKR will be the next step.
Now, you'll schedule and prepare for your surgery.
You'll usually need a pre-surgery exam, and possible blood tests, just to make sure the surgery is safe for you. Make sure to let your doctor know about any medications you take, since those can affect the surgery. Certain things in your medical history such as blood clots, or bleeding problems, are also important to note.
You'll need to follow the steps the doctor gives you before the surgery. At the minimum, you likely won't be allowed to eat for the eight hours leading up to it.
With modern knee replacement techniques, you might be able to schedule an outpatient surgery.
However, if you have health issues or any possible complications, the surgery will need to happen in the hospital. You'll spend at least a day, and possibly a few days, as an inpatient in this case.
You'll likely get an IV line inserted to give you medication or fluids. The surgery area will get shaved. Then, you'll be given anesthesia.
The doctor will decide whether to give you total anesthesia, so you're "knocked out" for the surgery, or just an epidural anesthesia to make you numb from the waist down. General anesthesia is most common for this procedure.
The surgery likely won't take more than two hours. Your doctor will make the incision and remove the damaged knee joint, replacing it with an artificial joint.
The recovery is fairly fast. You can often start walking with the aid of a cane, walker, or crutches within a day.
Within the month, you should see pain reduction, along with your range of motion returning. You'll need to do post-surgery exercises to aid recovery and keep swelling down. Some people may work with a physical therapist as part of this process.
Then, the only thing left to do is enjoy life with a new, pain-free knee joint!
How Successful is Knee Replacement?
The good news about getting a TKR is that these procedures are incredibly successful.
The vast majority of people with the procedure see less pain and a greater range of motion. There aren't many possible complications as long as you're a good candidate for surgery. So if you've been experiencing knee issues, don't wait to get in touch with your doctor about the possibilities of a TKR.
Looking for ways to reduce your pain while you wait for your diagnosis? Check out my guide to knee pain relief here.