Knee Arthroplasty (Replacement) Benefits, Risks, and Complications

Knee arthroplasty (replacement) is common and even referred to as "routine" nowadays, though there are unique risks and complication to know.

Helpful Highlights

  • Benefits of knee replacement include pain relief and improved function and mobility.

  • The risks of a knee replacement are those associated with any major surgery.

  • Additional risks are that the knee replacement won't bring expected outcomes, and/or may require additional surgeries in the immediate and distant future.

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What are the benefits of knee arthroplasty (replacement)?

Knee replacement surgery results are often excellent, provided all recommendations are followed. 

Relief from pain is the greatest benefit and the major reason for knee replacement surgery.

Restoring function to the knee joint promotes independence and returns quality of life.

The procedure also offers other benefits, including:

  • Improved movement and strength

  • Stabilization of the knee joint leading to a reduction in fall risk

  • The ability to walk, climb stairs, and maintain an active lifestyle in greater comfort

  • Increased confidence/self-esteem

Most knee replacements can be expected to last at least 10 years, more likely 15-20 years.

After recovery, your loved one can engage in various low-impact activities, such as walking, swimming, golfing, or biking. But they should avoid high-impact activities, such as jogging, leg presses, and sports that involve jumping or person-to-person contact. Talk to your loved one's healthcare provider about ways to stay active after knee replacement.

What are the risks of knee arthroplasty (replacement)?

Most people do well with knee replacement, though knee replacement, like any surgery, carries risks. However, the complication rate following joint replacement surgery is very low (less than 2%), and many can be successfully avoided or treated. Chronic illnesses may increase the potential for complications. Although uncommon, when these complications occur, they can prolong healing or limit full recovery.

  • Bleeding

  • Infection

  • Blood clots in the legs or lungs

  • Injury to nearby nerves or blood vessels

  • Fracture

  • Continued pain, stiffness, or instability of the joint

  • The implant loosens or wears out and needs revision (another surgery)

  • Unrelieved joint pain (this may be temporary)

  • Weakness

  • Need for additional surgeries or a second replacement

  • In very rare cases of bone surgery, particularly procedures using bone cement, an embolism (blockage) can occur if fat from the bone marrow enters the bloodstream. A fat embolism raises the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

There may be other risks depending on your loved one's medical conditions. Be sure to discuss any concerns with the surgeon and ask which risks are highest and how to manage them.

RESOURCES

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) – Total Knee Replacement

American Association of Hip & Knee Surgeons (AAHKS) – Total Knee Replacement

Johns Hopkins Medicine – Knee Replacement Surgery

Mayo Clinic – Knee Replacement

No content in this app, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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