Knee replacement surgery (arthroplasty)

Are you one of the many people in the UK suffering in silence with knee pain? Well you're not alone, over 70,000 knee replacements are carried out in England and Wales each year, a procedure which involves replacing the knee joint with an artificial one. 

Knees are the largest joints in our bodies, so if you're experiencing pain inducing conditions like arthritis or an injury to the knee, even every day activities like walking can become difficult. If you're experiencing stiffness, swelling, pain, reduced mobility or just have noticed your knees are not quite the same as they used to be, our world leading knee specialists are on hand to help. Using our state of the art facilities, our expert consultants will accurately diagnose your knee condition to determine whether knee replacement surgery could be the solution for you. 

What is involved?

Total knee replacement (TKR): this involves replacing both sides of the knee joint:

  • The knee joint is opened up to allow the surgeon to smooth off the roughened and worn out ends of the femur and tibia
  • If the bones have become more worn on one side or the other (eg, if the inside half of the joint wears away more then your leg will become more bowed and vice versa) then the surgeon can correct this to ensure that your leg is straight by the end of the procedure
  • The ends of the bone are then resurfaced with metal prostheses, a flat plate on the top of the tibia, and a contoured cam for the end of the femur
  • A plastic bearing is then fitted between the metal surfaces and this produces a very smooth surface to allow the joint to bend, straighten and twist like a normal knee
  • The surgeon usually, but not always, replaces the back of the knee cap with a plastic button
  • The average stay in hospital after TKR is four nights

Unicompartmental (half) knee replacement (UKR):

  • If the wear in the knee is only present in one half of the knee then most surgeons will suggest only replacing this half of the knee, leaving the remaining normal knee surfaces untouched
  • This has some advantages over TKR in that patients tend to recover slightly quicker, and are more likely to feel as if it is their own knee rather than a replacement
  • The average stay in hospital after UKR three nights

What happens after surgery?

Following the operation you will wake up with a bulky dressing around your knee and a tube connecting your knee to a drain which collects blood from your knee. This drain is usually only in place for the first 24 hours after your operation. The blood that is drained can be filtered and given back to you via a drip. This has greatly reduced the need for post-operative blood transfusions following knee replacement

Once the drain has been removed and you have recovered from the anaesthetic you will be allowed to begin walking with the supervision of the ward physiotherapists. You will be able to fully weight bear on the operated leg straight away, but will need to use walking aids such as a pair of crutches or walking sticks to help support your knee in the early stages of your recovery

You will be offered painkillers to enable you to sleep comfortably and help you to begin exercising your knee effectively

The knee may be swollen and bruised, so you should keep your leg elevated (raised) when not walking or exercising and you can also use ice to reduce the swelling. The best method is to wrap some crushed ice or frozen peas in a towel and place onto the swollen area for around 20 minutes, four times a day, until the swelling goes down

Knee replacement FAQs

The DVLA states that it is the responsibility of the driver to ensure they are always in control of the vehicle. A good guide is if you can stamp down hard with the foot to stop the car during an emergency stop. It may take at least six weeks to be able to do this, but ask your surgeon for advice if you are not sure. You should also check with your vehicle insurer to confirm you are covered.

This depends on the type of work you do and how quickly you recover. As a general guide, if your job involves sitting down for most of the time, you should be able to return to work after six weeks; if it involves manual work, you may need to take three or four months off. If you aren’t certain, ask your surgeon for advice.

Your surgeon will be able to advise you about this but it is usually safe to return to most activities once you have adequate flexibility, strength and fitness. Activities that place acceptable levels of strain on your knee joint (and are therefore recommended following surgery) include walking, cycling, swimming, golf, bowling, rowing, and hiking. Activities that place too much strain on your knee joint and are therefore not recommended following surgery include jogging, squash, football, rugby, downhill skiing and hockey.

Most knee replacements will set off airport security detectors and it is advisable to have some written evidence of your surgery, in addition to your scar! If you are travelling abroad, please contact the Fortius Clinic at least two weeks before you travel so we can prepare a letter for you.


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