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Total Knee Replacement

What is knee arthritis?

Arthritis of the knee is damage to the articular cartilage of the joint. This often leads to pain, stiffness and ultimately loss of function of the knee.


x-ray of arthritic knee
This X-Ray shows typical osteoarthritis of the medial side (inside) of the knee with joint space narrowing, osteophytosis ( new bone formation), bone sclerosis (increased density of the bone) , cyst formation and varus deformity of the lower leg (becoming bow legged).


Information on knee arthritis


What can I do to get rid of my knee pain?

There are a variety of non-operative treatments that can relief your symptoms of knee arthritis. It is good to keep as active as possible however you may be required to limit certain activities that exacerbate the pain.

Exercise using an exercise bicycle are especially suited for most patients with knee problems. Anti-inflammatory medication and pain killers of different strengths may also be helpful.

Dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate as well as omega-3-fatty acids now have scientific evidence that they provide symptomatic relief, especially in knee arthritis.

Detailed information on dietary supplements

The knee joint is particularly affected by being overweight and a weight loss program may well help to improve knee symptoms.

Soft shoe inserts may reduce the forces travelling to the knee. This may make walking more comfortable. Also a knee brace may be helpful in certain types of knee arthritis.

Injections into the knee either with steroids or visco-supplementation may provide lasting pain relief.

Detailed information on visco supplementation


What do I do if my arthritic knee symptoms are not improved by non-surgical methods?

 Eventually, at a time often difficult to determine, non surgical treatment measures may not provide adequate symptomatic relief and a surgical solution may have to be considered.

There are three types of surgical treatments that can be considered if non surgical management regimes do not control your symptoms.

The options are knee arthroscopy, an osteotomy around the knee or a type of knee replacement.


What is total knee replacement?

Total knee replacement is the resurfacing of the bones in your knee joint with a prosthesis (artificial knee joint).

The artificial total knee joint consists of 3 or 4 separate parts (components). Like a normal knee your prosthesis has smooth weight-bearing surfaces. The femoral component covers the bottom of your thigh bone, the tibial component covers the top of your shin bone, and the patellar component covers the underside of your knee cap.

The tibial and femoral components are metal while the patella and tibial spacer are a special type of polyethylene (plastic). Both the femoral, tibial and the patellar components are usually fixed to the bone with bone cement.


x-ray of arthritic knee x-ray of Total Knee Replacement
This shows a knee with arthritis on both sides of the knee. A total knee replacement has been done, showing the different components.


Infromation on Total Knee Replacement


How long does the operation take?

The operation itself takes about one hour to an hour and a half. It is most often done with a tourniquet around the thigh bone to reduce the blood loss and provide clean interfaces for cementing the components of the knee replacement.

All together from the time the patient leaves to ward to returning to the ward after the operation can take 3-4 hours.

The following day you will be sitting out of bed and you will be encouraged to walk around the ward or room.


Will the operation be painful?

After discussion with the anaesthetist you will either receive a general anaesthetic or regional anaesthetic (spinal or epidural) you will be advised by the anaesthetist what may be best for you but most of the time the decision is yours to make.

You will receive an intra-operative injection with a mixture of painkilling medication which in the majority of cases will give you a pain free knee for 14-16 hours post operatively.


Video clip shows a patient three hours after having a total knee replacement having had the intra operative peri-articular injection with pain killing medication.


Read article published on this method of pain relief


What sort of scar will I have?

The incision for a total knee replacement is at the front of the knee. The incision needs to be big enough to do the operation but we will always try to keep the size to the minimum.


Incision for knee replacement
This shows the typical incision made for a total knee replacement.


The size of the incision is often related to the size of the knee that requires the knee replacement.

Minimally incision total knee replacement can also be used in certain patients.


What are the complications of knee surgery?


Infected Knee wound Infected Knee wound
If your knee wound looks like this you should contact your doctor straight away!


Types of problems:

  • Infection: The risk of infection is less than 1% and pre-operative antibiotics are given to prevent this from happening.
  • Deep vein thrombosis: This is prevented by giving blood thinners and the use of compressive stockings. If a clot occurs it will be treated with specific blood thinners, usually warfarin.
  • Nerve and vessel damage: It is unlikely that any major nerve or vessel will be damaged. An area of numbness to the outside of the incision is however very common but few patients find this a problem.
  • Prosthesis failure : The prosthesis may fail due to the plastic wearing out and it may require revision.
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy : Very rarely a condition can occur where the leg becomes stiff, hypersensitive and painful. This requires specific treatment by a pain management specialist.
  • Excessive bleeding: This usually settles but may require drainage.
  • Excessive scarring: Some skin will scar up significantly (called keloid scarring).
  • Pain with kneeling: Kneeling following total knee replacement is the exception rather than the rule. Some patients can and some can’t! Most knee replacement are not designed to bend excessively

It has to be remembered that overall the complication rate for patient having total knee replacement is quite low.

Patients should be aware that complications may occur and therefore the right indications for performing surgery should always be followed.


x-ray of valgus knee (knock knee) x-ray of rotating platform Total Knee Replacement Corrected malalignment
This 75 year old lady had bilateral valgus knees (knock kneed). She had a complex total knee replacement using a rotating platform knee. The picture on the right shows her right knee pre-operatively. She had her left knee done with the same implant 3 months previously.