Promising new treatments for knee osteoarthritis (OA) and acute injuries such as meniscal tears are in progress. Researchers are closer than ever to finding the way to regrow cartilage and tissue. But while extensive clinical trials are still underway, regenerative treatments are considered experimental by the FDA which means knee replacement surgery might seem like their best option for many people.
Need to Know
About 720,000 total knee replacements take place in the US every year, around 14,000 of those can lead to infections which can be incredibly painful, difficult to diagnose, and require additional surgeries to treat. There are also potential postoperative complications such as continued pain and swelling, heart attack, blood clots, stroke and kidney failure. On average, most joint replacements only last 15-20 years, which means if you’re under 70 the odds are good that you’ll need at least one additional surgery to replace the hardware.
If you don’t have a primary care physician that can make an orthopedic referral you trust, then you need to start doing some homework. Safe Patient Project works to help patients avoid infections and other complications in hospitals. They recommend finding out:
- what the hospital’s infection rate is
- what the surgeon’s complication rate is
- how many knee replacements the surgeon performs every year
- whether or not the device they use has ever been the subject of a recall
The Short and Long Look
With so many knee replacement surgeries performed every year there are thousands of patient stories out there. Some detailing a challenging road with a successful outcome, and others expressing disappointment or worse at the process and results.
How long you stay in the hospital depends on how your surgery went and how you’re responding to physical therapy. On average you’ll stay there 1-3 days then be sent straight home. You might be released to a rehab facility for about a week if you cannot get out of bed on your own or are still dependent on painkillers. For the next two years, your knee will be healing, creating scar tissue and restoring the strength of your surrounding muscles.
A study was conducted to determine what factors could help predict the patient’s functional ability one and two years after knee replacement surgery. They found that factors like a higher body mass index or older patients had a negative impact on the increased functionality post-surgery. The research also showed that physical therapy needed to be conducted on the leg not operated on to ensure the improvement of the patients overall functionality.
You Have Choices
If you haven’t tried less invasive solutions like physical therapy or injections to relieve your knee pain, those are a good place to start, leaving surgery as your last resort. If you’ve exhausted your options and are looking into surgery, you need to know that not all surgeons, hospitals, and rehab programs are created equal, and it’s incredibly important to do your homework before committing to a physician and facility.