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About Knee Surgery or Replacement

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is osteoarthritis and why does my knee hurt?

Joint cartilage is a tough, smooth tissue that covers the ends of bones where joints are located. It helps cushion the bones during movement, and because it is smooth and slippery, it allows for motion with minimal friction. Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is a wear and tear condition that destroys joint cartilage. Sometimes, as the result of trauma, repetitive movement, or for no apparent reason, the cartilage wears down, exposing the bone ends. Over time, cartilage destruction can result in painful bone-on-bone contact, along with swelling and loss of motion. Osteoarthritis usually occurs later in life and may affect only one joint and many joints.

What is total knee replacement?

The term total knee replacement is misleading. The knee itself is not replaced, as is commonly thought, but rather an implant is used to re-cap the worn bone ends. This is done with a metal alloy on the femur and a plastic spacer on the tibia and patella (kneecap). This creates a new, smooth cushion and a functioning joint that can reduce or eliminate pain.

How long will my new knee last and can a second replacement be done?

All implants have a limited life expectancy depending on an individual’s age, weight, activity level, and medical condition(s). A total joint implant's longevity will vary in every patient. It is important to remember that an implant is a medical device subject to wear that may lead to mechanical failure. While it is important to follow all of your surgeon’s recommendations after surgery, there is no guarantee that your particular implant will last for any specified length of time.

What are the major risks?

Most surgeries go well, without any complications. Infection and blood clots are two serious complications. To avoid these complications, your surgeon may use antibiotics and blood thinners. Surgeons also take special precautions in the operating room to reduce the risk of infection.

How long will I be in the hospital?

You will probably stay in bed the day of surgery. However, the next morning most patients will get up, sit in a chair or recliner, and should be walking with a walker or crutches the next day. Most knee patients will be hospitalized for three days after surgery. There are several goals that must be achieved before discharge.

What if I live alone?

Three options are available to you, depending on your insurance. You may return home and receive help from a relative or friend. You can have a home health nurse and physical therapist visit you at home for two or three weeks. You may also stay in a skilled nursing / rehab facility following your hospital stay.

How do I make arrangements for surgery?

After your surgeon has scheduled surgery, our joint care coordinator will contact you. He will guide you through the program and make arrangements for both pre-op and post-op care.

What happens during the surgery?

The hospital reserves approximately two and one half hours for surgery. Some of this time will be taken by the operating room staff to prepare for surgery. You may have a general anesthetic, which most people call “being put to sleep.” Some patients prefer to have a spinal or epidural anesthetic, which numbs the legs and does not require you to be asleep. The choice is between you, your surgeon, and the anesthesiologists.

Will the surgery be painful?

You will have discomfort following the surgery, but we will try to keep you as comfortable as possible with the appropriate medication. After surgery, most patients control their own medication with a special pump that delivers the drug directly into their IV.

Your surgeon and the Joint Care Team will work with you to keep you as comfortable as possible through your joint replacement experience. Upon discharge, you will have instructions on how to manage your pain at home with behavior modification, ice therapy and oral pain medications.

How long and where will my scar be?

Surgical scars will vary in length, but most surgeons will make it as short as possible. It will be straight down the center of your knee, unless you have previous scars, in which case your surgeon may use an existing scar. There may be lasting numbness around the scar.

Will I need a walker, crutches, or a cane?

Patients progress at their own rate. Normally we recommend that you use a walker, crutches, or a cane for four to six weeks. The joint care coordinator can arrange for you to obtain the necessary device.

Where will I go after discharge from the hospital?

Most patients are able to go home directly after discharge. Some patients may transfer to a skilled nursing or rehab facility, where they will stay for three to five days. Our joint care coordinator will help you with this decision and make the necessary arrangements. You should check with your insurance company to see if you have this step-down or sub-acute rehab benefits.

Will I need help at home?

Yes, for the first few days or weeks, depending on your progress, you will need someone to assist you with meal preparation, etc. If you go directly home from the hospital, our joint care coordinator may arrange for a home health nurse to come to your house as needed. Family or friends need to be available to help if possible. Preparing ahead of time, before your surgery, can minimize the amount of help needed. Having the laundry done, house cleaned, yard work completed, clean linens put on the bed, and single portion frozen meals will help reduce the need for extra help.

Will I need physical therapy when I go home?

Yes, you will have either outpatient or in-home physical therapy. Patients are encouraged to use outpatient physical therapy. Our joint care coordinator will help you arrange for an outpatient physical therapy appointment. If you need home physical therapy, he will arrange for a physical therapist to provide therapy in your home. Following this, you may go to an outpatient facility three times a week to assist in your rehabilitation. The length of time for this type of therapy varies with each patient.

Will my new knee set off security sensors when traveling?

Your joint replacement is made of a metal alloy and may or may not be detected when going through some security devices. Inform the security agent you have a metal implant. The agent will direct you on the security screening procedure. You should carry a medic alert card indicating that you have an artificial joint. Check with your surgeon on how to obtain one.

Contact Us

Make an appointment with our Joint Care Coordinator to learn more about our patient-centered process for joint replacement surgery or to schedule a tour.

Dave Smith, Joint Care Coordinator


Available guidebooks for download

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