Few things can derail your health and fitness goals faster than pain—and knee pain is one of the most common complaints. From sharp, stabbing pain to a dull ache or stiffness, knee pain affects one in four adults, and can range from mildly irritating to so debilitating that even walking is painful.
Often, knee pain results from injuries to the ligaments and tendons, especially if you’re active or play sports. Mild cases usually respond to rest and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, while more severe cases may require stronger medications, physical therapy, cortisone injections or even surgery to repair the damage.
When knee pain is caused by osteoarthritis, however, these treatments may provide only limited relief, because arthritis is a chronic, degenerative disease that gets worse with time. The tissues around the joint become inflamed, tender, swollen and stiff; in advanced cases, the cartilage that cushions the joints of the knee wears away to the point where bone rubs against bone.
Age is the biggest risk factor for osteoarthritis—it most often affects people 50 and older—but other factors can bring it on sooner, such as a genetic predisposition, injuries and joint stress caused by repetitive activities or excess body weight. When noninvasive treatments fail to provide relief, knee replacement surgery may be the next step.
Knee Replacement is Better Than Ever
During knee replacement, the damaged cartilage and bone in the knee is removed and replaced with an artificial implant, usually made of metal, plastic or ceramic. Advances in technology and improved surgical techniques are contributing factors related to an increased frequency of knee replacement surgeries.
Here are five things to know about modern knee replacement surgery:
- It’s highly effective. A new knee can mean greater mobility and less pain. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, more than 90 percent of people who have knee replacement surgery experience a dramatic reduction of knee pain.
- It’s not just for older people. According to the Arthritis Foundation, half of people who have knee replacement surgery are younger than 65. In recent years, the number of surgeries among people 45 to 64 increased by 188 percent.
- It’s less invasive and more precise. Many surgeons now perform knee replacement using minimally invasive surgical techniques. These require fewer and smaller incisions and usually result in less discomfort, a shorter hospital stay and a faster recovery. On average, the surgery takes about two hours, and patients generally stay in the hospital for two to four days.
- You’ll be up and walking within days. Working with a physical therapist, you’ll begin moving around and walking as soon as the day after your surgery. You’ll also have a therapy plan to follow after you leave the hospital to help you continue to regain strength and mobility. Most people can start low-impact activities such as cycling within a few weeks and progress to higher-impact activities as they become stronger. Complete recovery can take several months to a year.
- Knee replacements can last 20 years. The implants used in modern knee replacement today are strong and flexible, and are predicted to last up to 20 years.
- Revisions are sometimes necessary. In some cases, people may need revisions to the replacement due to infection, loosening of the implant or other problems. Revisions are more likely among people under 65 who have overweight, obesity or health issues.
If you feel like you’ve tried everything else to relieve knee pain without success, consider scheduling a consultation with an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in knee problems.