Benefits and Risks of Knee Replacement

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senior woman holding sore knee with arthritis

The decision to have major surgery isn’t always an easy one. When knee replacement becomes a consideration, it’s usually because knee pain and stiffness are limiting your activities. In fact, your knee problems may be interfering so much that it affects your quality of life. Surgery can help you get back to a more active life without knee pain. Before you make the decision to have surgery, it’s best to understand ahead of time what that road will be like. Here is a look at knee replacement benefits and risks.

Knee Replacement Benefits

In a knee replacement, doctors remove a diseased or damaged knee joint and replace it with an artificial implant. After knee replacement recovery, most people return to activities they used to enjoy. Keep in mind the safest activities for your new knee will be low impact. This includes walking and sports, such as golf, biking and swimming. Basically, anything with movements that do not overly stress the joint will be okay. However, your doctor will likely tell you to avoid high-impact activities, such as running or sports involving jumping. This may mean you need to find new ways to stay active.

Knee replacement is a highly successful surgery. Most people have improvements in pain, stiffness, and other symptoms after they fully recover. The success rate remains high 15 years after surgery, with more than 90% of knee implants still functioning well. However, as with anything mechanical, knee implants can wear out over time. Depending on your age, it is possible you will need another knee replacement in the future.

Knee Replacement Risks

Having any kind of surgery involves risk. Problems can develop during the surgical procedure or afterwards during recovery. Potential knee replacement complications include:

  • Continued pain, but this complication is rare. Most people experience knee pain relief following joint replacement.

  • Implant wear and tear, as mentioned above. Knee implants generally last at least 15 years. Revision surgery is a possibility if your implant sustains excessive wear and tear.

  • Limited range of motion, especially when motion was limited before surgery. Normal knee range of motion goes from 0 degrees when the knee is fully extended to 155 degrees when it is bent all the way. On average, people are almost able to fully straighten their new knee and achieve 115 degrees of bend. Scarring can decrease this range. People at highest risk for limited range of motion had poor range before surgery.

  • Surgical risks including bleeding, blood clots, and infection of the surgical site.

Knee Replacement Post-surgical Pain and Other Symptoms

Pain during knee replacement recovery is a reality. However, the amount of pain and how long it lasts can vary with the type of knee replacement you have. Minimally invasive knee replacement is usually less painful than traditional surgery. So is a partial knee replacement compared to a total knee replacement. Both of these surgeries also tend to have a faster recovery. Ask your doctor about these surgeries and find out if you are a candidate for either one.

Knee stiffness and numbness around the incision is another reality after surgery. These problems will gradually get better over time. In most cases, people with new knees have good mobility even with lingering stiffness.

You should also realize your new knee may set off metal detectors. This is not really a risk, but it can be inconvenient. You can get a card from your doctor that explains your implant. However, you will not be exempt from security screening at airports and other public venues. Presenting it will let security personnel know that alternate screening procedures may be necessary.

Reducing the Risk of Knee Replacement Complications

In the end, most people find the benefits of knee replacement outweigh the risks. What’s more, you play an important role in preventing complications. Closely following your doctor’s instructions is the best thing you can do to avoid trouble. This includes staying committed to your home rehab plan. Doing these exercises, walking, and being active daily is vital for proper healing. Ask your doctor about the recovery process before you decide to have surgery. Make sure you understand what you will need to do and focus on a successful recovery.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Mar 8
  1. Activities After Knee Replacement. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/recovery/activities-after-knee-replacement/
  2. Knee Replacement. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/knee-replacement/about/pac-20385276
  3. Minimally Invasive Total Knee Replacement. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/treatment/minimally-invasive-total-knee-replacement/
  4. Range of Joint Motion Evaluation Chart. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. https://www.dshs.wa.gov/sites/default/files/FSA/forms/pdf/13-585a.pdf
  5. Total Knee Replacement. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/treatment/total-knee-replacement/
  6. TSA Notification Card. Transportation Security Administration. https://www.tsa.gov/sites/default/files/disability_notification_card_508.pdf
  7. Unicompartmental Knee Replacement. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.  https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/treatment/unicompartmental-knee-replacement/


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