How and when your knee can be replaced

After knee replacement surgery, you might have to use a walker during recovery, and will be encouraged to do low-impact activities like golfing. — TNS

I was a football player in secondary school and throughout most of university. Now I am 65 years old. My doctor says my knees have osteoarthritis and I need to go for knee replacement. I am scared. How does one replace a knee? Aren’t we born with our knees?

Luckily, a knee is something we can replace these days, unlike say, a brain.

Knee replacement surgery is also known as knee arthroplasty (in ancient Greek, “arthro” means joint and “plasty” means moulded or formed).

The surgery replaces your knee joint with an artificial one.

It does not replace your entire knee – the muscles surrounding the joint, as well as your skin, will all still be intact.

Do I need to be a certain age for knee replacement (i.e. is it only for old people)?

You can have a knee replacement at any age if you are an adult.

Children usually do not go for knee replacement because knee joint conditions are less common during childhood and children have not finished growing.

Most knee replacements tend to be done, however, in those aged between 60 to 80, as degenerative diseases take their toll.

There is total knee replacement, and also partial knee replacement.

Total knee replacement is when both sides of your knee joint are being replaced.

Partial knee replacement involves only one side.

This is usually carried out for younger people aged 55 to 64, as the knee will need to be replaced again in 10 to 15 years.

Why should one replace a knee?

If your knee joint is damaged, and you are having trouble walking or experiencing pain due to it, it is better to just completely or partially replace the joint.

You don’t want to suffer pain needlessly or be on painkillers forever.

You may also want to maintain an active lifestyle into your old age by dancing, walking or doing aerobics, for example.

A knee replacement will relieve any pain you have in a damaged knee greatly, and restore your function.

If I have rheumatoid arthritis, can I replace a knee?

The commonest cause of knee replacement is osteoarthritis.

It is a degenerative disease that becomes worse over time.

It can cause you constant pain, as well as joint stiffness.

Over time, you may have difficulty doing the things you used to do easily, and may not even be able to walk without a crutch.

The worst, most people complain, is the pain. Sometimes, it is severe enough to disturb your sleep.

Some people become depressed due to the chronic pain.

Knee replacement can also be used to relieve rheumatoid arthritis affecting the knee, or indeed, any sort of joint injury that makes it difficult for you to retain your normal function.

In fact, knee replacement for rheumatoid arthritis is known to have a very high success rate.

There are many serious hikers who also have to go for knee replacement at a young age, especially in Malaysia.

Hiking extensively can damage your knees due to the uneven surfaces you have to traverse through.

Additionally, knee replacement can be done for haemophilia, gout, unusual bone growth, bone death in the knee joint, knee injury and knee deformity.

Does this artificial knee joint last forever?

No. As previously mentioned, they can be expected to last around 15 to 20 years.

The latest ones can last even longer.

The artificial joint is made out of metal alloys, high grade plastics and polymers, and are properly called prostheses.

How long does the surgery take and how long do I need to be immobilised in order to recover? I am particularly afraid of what will happen after surgery.

The surgery is usually done under general anaesthesia and takes a couple of hours.

Sometimes, it can also be done under spinal anaesthesia as the area of surgery is below the spine (pretty much like a Caesarean section).

Once the surgery is over, you may be asked to stay in the hospital for one or two days.

However, I know of people who went home the same day!

You will be given painkillers and encouraged to move your foot and ankle.

Gradually, you will be asked to increase your activity with help from a physical therapist.

You may have to use crutches or a walker post-surgery.

As early as three weeks after the replacement, you can resume your normal activities.

What most patients notice is a marked relief from pain, and the ability to do things you could no longer do before.

However, some people may take up to six weeks to recover.

Generally, you will be encouraged to engage in low-impact activities to maintain your knee’s mobility, such as swimming, walking, biking and golfing.

Doctors will generally discourage you from running, playing tennis or doing sports that require jumping.

You can still do these high-impact sports if you wish, but be aware that your new joint will wear out faster.

You should also keep your weight normal for your height and sex.

Being overweight will put an added stress on your knees – both the original one and the artificial one.

Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, email The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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