Minor aches and pains are inevitable as we get older, especially in people who have had physically demanding jobs or who have been active in sports or fitness for most of their lives. Chronic knee pain and stiffness are common complaints in active people over the age of 50. Sometimes this means cutting out competitive sports or easing up on long runs. However, when the pain is so bad that you can't maintain any fitness routine and even walking has become difficult, it's time to find out if a total knee replacement is right for you.

When Knee Replacement Surgery Is Recommended

Surgery is always a last-resort treatment. Our orthopedic specialists will always start with conservative measures such as physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and knee braces or other walking supports before recommending surgery. However, when these treatments are no longer effective in preventing pain, surgery will be considered. Signs that a patient is a good candidate for knee replacement include the following:

  • Limitations in everyday activities. It has become too painful to walk, climb stairs, rise from a chair, or get in and out of a car.
  • Need for walking support. The patient cannot walk more than a few blocks without the use of a cane or walker.
  • Pain while resting. Moderate to severe pain doesn't subside while resting or lying in bed at night, even with the use of pain relievers.
  • Chronic inflammation. Swelling around the knee joint does not go down with rest, ice, or medications.
  • Knee deformity. The knee bows in or out in an unnatural position, indicating irreversible damage to tendons and ligaments.

Depending on your job demands, activity level, and fitness goals, you might reach a point where the limitations caused by your knee pain are no longer acceptable to you, even if you have not met some of the above milestones. It is important to talk to your doctor about your specific goals for an active lifestyle.

What Happens During Knee Replacement Surgery

Following a thorough evaluation by an orthopedic surgeon consisting of an assessment of your knee motion, stability, strength, and leg alignment, as well as x-rays, to determine the extent of damage to your knee, a surgical plan will be developed to treat your specific injury. In some cases, minor knee damage could be repaired with a less-invasive arthroscopic procedure. If that is an option for you, your surgeon will offer it to you. Otherwise, a total knee replacement looks like this:

  • The damaged cartilage at the end of each leg bone is removed, and the bone surface is shaved down to prepare for the implant.
  • Titanium knee components are cemented or "press-fit" onto each side of the joint, replacing the original joint.
  • A plastic spacer is inserted between the titanium components to create a smooth surface for easy movement.

Replacing the entire knee joint removes the source of pain and stiffness for most patients. However, it will take time to recover from the surgery. Patients will be ordered to rest, walk with crutches, attend physical therapy, and introduce normal activity slowly.

A knee replacement does not make you a bionic man or woman. You will likely be advised to avoid high-impact activities such as running, jumping, and playing high-impact sports in order to extend the life of the prosthetic knee. For most patients, the ability to work, walk, engage in low-impact exercise, swim, dance, and travel without pain is reason enough to have the surgery. With care, the knee replacement should last for many years.

Ready for Freedom From Knee Pain? Contact Northwest Extremity Specialists

If knee replacement surgery is recommended for you, the skilled orthopedic surgeons at Northwest Extremity Specialists will help you determine the best time to have the procedure. We will evaluate your overall health and develop a rehab and recovery plan to ensure the best possible outcome. Call us today at 503-245-2420 to make an appointment in the Portland-area office closest to you.