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Frequently Asked Questions about Knee Disorders & Treatments

The following frequently asked questions are an overview of some of the most commonly asked questions regarding knee disorders and replacement procedures. The orthopaedic surgeons and the care team at the Valley Hip & Knee Institute will be happy to answer any questions you may have about your specific needs.

Questions? Call us at 818.708.9090

Knee Surgery FAQs

How do I determine if knee replacement surgery is the best option for me?

One of the most common reasons for knee replacement surgery is to provide relief from severe joint pain or other disorders that limit a person's mobility or negatively impact their quality of life. Usually, those who choose knee replacement do so because the pain has not improved in response to other nonsurgical treatment options. Knee implants can wear out over time, especially in individuals with more active lifestyles or who live longer. If a second knee replacement is needed in the future, it may not result in the same outcome as the first procedure. The good news is that recent studies show that most common types of knee implants can last more than 20 years.

Because knee disorders are not life-threatening, knee replacement surgery or other knee procedures are considered "elective" operations, and as with any surgery, knee procedures carry the risk of side-effects and complications. The decision of whether or not to undergo knee surgery is personal choice for every patient, and only you can make that decision. As a rule, most patients decide to have surgery if/when the benefits outweigh the risks.

Here are some facts that may help in making your decision:

  • Once you have osteoarthritis in the knee, it will never get better. It will generally worsen over time. There are no exercises, diets, or supplements that will cure it.
  • The rate of further knee deterioration differs greatly from person to person. The associated pain can also vary. Some people are willing to live with a certain degree of pain, while others may find it unbearable.
  • You may believe that it is better to delay a knee operation in the hopes that knee replacement technology will improve with time. However, the rate of progress in this area is slow, so this option is something best considered if you are young, or if your arthritis or pain is mild and you can easily live with your symptoms.
  • One year after surgery, patients have less pain and are generally more active than before surgery.
  • Arguments against waiting too long include a) arthritis has the potential to make your bones progressively softer and your muscles progressively weaker over time, and b) if your pain and disability are not responding to conservative measures, you may need knee surgery at some point in the future. Why not be pain-free sooner?

Reasons why knee surgery may not be a good option for you - include:

  • Morbid obesity (body weight greater than 300 lbs.)
  • Persistent infections
  • Heart or lung problems that make major surgery more risky
  • Your quadriceps - the muscles in the front of your thigh - are weak, making it potentially hard to walk and use your knee

If you are still in doubt about having knee surgery after consultation with an orthopaedic surgeon, a second opinion may give you the reassurance you need. Discussing your concerns with your family physician or primary doctor, rheumatologist, and/or other individuals who have also undergone knee surgery may also be beneficial.

What personal health information should I share with my orthopaedic surgeon when being evaluated for knee surgery?

It is essential that your orthopaedic surgeon be informed about your complete medical history including medications, past illnesses and operations, any problems you may have had with your kidneys, allergies, and any known sensitivities to metal (for example, if you have had any reactions when wearing jewelry, watches, or metal-frame glasses).

What kind of recovery and mobility should I expect after knee replacement surgery?

After undergoing a knee replacement procedure, it is reasonable to expect that you will be able to resume your usual lifestyle, but without the pain. However, this will take time, as your body needs to be given the chance to heal properly to ensure your best possible outcome.

Recovery time will vary from patient to patient, and it depends on each patient's age, the procedure done, general health, and other factors. In most cases, patients will use a walker or crutches for several weeks after the operation, and transition to using a cane outdoors and no support at home.

How much pain will I be in when recovering from a knee replacement procedure?

The level of discomfort varies from person to person, but most patients report minimal pain between 48 and 72 hours after their operation (provided they are taking their prescribed medication and are following their doctor's instructions). Patients also need to follow their prescribed physical therapy regimen. Patients typically use prescription pain medication for about a month after surgery before switching to over-the-counter pain medications.

What kind of assistance will I need during my recovery? Will I need physical therapy?

Patients will need help standing, as well as when using stairs, for at least the first week after knee replacement surgery. Patients also will need some help with bathing, dressing, cooking, shopping, and housework for a couple of weeks. Therefore, it is recommended that a friend, family member, or someone from a home health service be available to assist patients when they go home. A physical therapist will typically visit the patient two to three times a week to design and implement a home exercise program; the patient will eventually be able to do these exercises with no assistance.

When can I drive?

Knee replacement patients should wait 4 to 6 weeks before driving, particularly if the procedure was performed on the right knee. Patients should also discontinue their prescription pain medication before driving is resumed.

When can I go back to work?

When a knee replacement patient can return to work depends on the type of work involved. If the job does not require active movement, the patient may be able to return to work in about one month. For more active jobs, the patient may need up to 3 months before returning to full-time duty. These times can vary from person to person and job to job.