In some ways, the human body is like a machine that has many moving parts. Unlike machines, though, the body has the remarkable ability to heal itself when injured, depending on the part of the body affected. If you cut your skin, for example, a scab will form and the damaged tissue will regenerate. Similarly, if you break a bone, the body leaps into action to clean the break and repair the damage.
However, some tissues – like cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and menisci – don’t heal well on their own because their internal structure isn’t well supplied with blood. So if they are injured, or in the case of many seniors, damaged from long-term wear over time, the condition can be permanent if not treated.
The part of the body that is most commonly affected by this is one of the largest and most complex joints we have: the knee. Many people, as they get older, start to experience knee pain that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to walk. Cartilage and the meniscus – which serves as a cushion or “shock absorber” between the bones, start to wear down and eventually the bones start rubbing on each other, causing a lot of pain.
In addition to wear and tear, knee problems can occur due to injury, osteoarthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis. As a result, a wide range of symptoms can be present, including:
- Severe pain that makes it hard to walk, get in and out of cars, get up from a chair, or walk up a flight of stairs.
- Knee pain that persists even while at rest or asleep.
- Inflammation and swelling that doesn’t improve with rest or medications.
- Knee deformity, including a noticeable arch on the inside or outside of the joint.
This is why many people suffering from persistent knee pain opt for a knee replacement. In fact, there are more than 600,000 knee replacement procedures performed in the U.S. every year, most of which are on patients between 50 and 80 years old. Today, knee replacement is considered a highly routine surgery, with over 90 percent of patients experiencing a substantial improvement in pain and mobility.
The procedure is known as an arthroplasty, which literally means “the surgical repair of a joint.” During an arthroplasty, the surgeon covers the ends of the bones that make up the knee with plastic or metal components, or implants a completely prosthetic knee, enabling the joint to move properly. The surgery is typically performed under general, spinal, or epidural anesthetic.
According to the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons, full recovery from a knee replacement surgery can take up to three months. The patient usually stays in the hospital for up to three days, depending on how well he or she responds to rehabilitation. Pain is to be expected, but usually within a day, the patient is encouraged to get up and try to walk with a walker or cane.
It’s important to plan ahead for your recovery. For at least a few days, many tasks that you take for granted may seem difficult, like preparing meals, bathing, and getting dressed. So it’s a good idea to make sure that you have somebody with you at home to help for a few days.
The good news is that knee replacement surgery has been around since the mid-1970s, so it’s a safe, reliable procedure. It’s very important, however, to follow your doctor’s rehabilitation plan closely so you can get back to enjoying the activities you love as quickly as possible.