Knee Replacement Surgery

Realistic Expectations

Most people who undergo knee replacement surgery experience a dramatic reduction of knee pain and a significant improvement in their ability to perform daily activities.  

Following surgery, you will be advised to avoid certain activities, including jogging and high-impact sports, for the rest of your life.  You may also be asked to avoid specific positions of the joint that could lead to dislocation. 

Even with normal use and activities, an artificial joint (prosthesis) can develop some wear over time.  If you participate in high-impact activities,  or if you are overweight, this wear may accelerate and cause the prosthesis to loosen and become painful. With appropriate activity modification, knee replacements can last for many years.  

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Preparing for Surgery

This Pre-Surgery Checklist is typical. Ask your CJRI physician about any special preparations you might need to make.

  • Weight Loss  
  • If you are overweight, your doctor may ask you to lose some weight before surgery to minimize the stress on your new knee and potentially decrease the risks of surgery.
  • Medical Evaluation  
  • If you decide to have total knee replacement surgery, you may be asked to have a complete physical by your family physician several weeks before surgery to assess your health, and to rule out any conditions that could interfere with your surgery.
  • Dental Evaluation  
  • Although the incidence of infection after this surgery is very low, an infection can occur if bacteria enter the bloodstream. Treatment of significant dental diseases (including tooth extractions and periodontal work) should be considered before your surgery.
  • Urological Evaluation 
  • A preoperative urological evaluation should be considered for individuals with a history of recent or frequent urinary infections. For older men with prostate disease, treatment should be considered prior to this surgery.
  • Tests  
  • Several tests, such as blood tests, a urine test, and a cardiogram, may be needed to help your orthopedic surgeon plan your surgery.
  • Preparing Your Skin and Leg 
  • Your knee and leg should not have any skin infections or irritation. Your lower leg should not have any chronic swelling. Contact your orthopedic surgeon prior to surgery if either of these conditions is present, for a program to best prepare your skin for surgery.
  • You may be advised to donate your own blood prior to the surgery. It will be stored in the event you need blood after your surgery.
  • Medications  
  • Tell your orthopedic surgeon about the medications you are taking. You may be instructed to discontinue use of certain ones before surgery.
  • Social Planning  
  • Though you will be able to walk using crutches or a walker soon after surgery, you will need help for several weeks with such tasks as cooking, shopping, bathing, and laundry. If you live alone, your surgeon's office and a social worker or a discharge planner at the hospital can help you make advance arrangements to have someone assist you at home. They also can help you arrange for a short stay in an extended care facility during your recovery, if this option works best for you.
  • Home Planning Make your home easier to navigate during your recovery with:
    • Safety bars, or a secure handrail in the shower or bath
    • Secure handrails along stairways
    • A stable chair for your early recovery. This chair should have a firm back, two arms, and a firm seat cushion that allows your knees to remain lower than your hips
    • A raised toilet seat
    • A stable shower bench or chair for bathing
    • Shower hose
    • Firm pillows to place on chairs, sofa, and car seat --  You need these to keep your knees lower than your hips while seated
    • Removal of all loose carpets and electrical cords from the areas where you walk in your home

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Upon Arrival at the Connecticut Joint Replacement Institute

The Surgical Procedure
You will most likely be admitted to the hospital on the day of your surgery. After admission, you will be evaluated to determine what type of anesthesia is  be best for you. The most common types of anesthesia are general anesthesia, in which you are asleep throughout the procedure, and spinal or epidural anesthesia, in which you are awake but your legs are anesthetized.

Your orthopedic surgeon will remove the damaged cartilage and bone and then position the new metal and plastic joint surfaces to restore the alignment and function of the knee. Many types of designs and materials are currently used in total knee replacement surgery. Most of them consist of three components: the femoral component (made of a highly polished strong metal), the tibial component (made of a durable plastic often held in a metal tray), and the patellar component (also plastic).

The complication rate following this procedure is low. Serious complications, such as a knee joint infection, occur in less than 2 percent of patients. Major medical complications such as heart attack or stroke occur even less frequently. Chronic illnesses may increase the potential for complications. Although uncommon, when these complications occur, they can prolong or limit your full recovery. Blood clots in the leg veins are the most common complication of knee replacement surgery. Your orthopedic surgeon will outline a prevention program, which may include periodic elevation of your legs, lower leg exercises to increase circulation, support stockings and medication to thin your blood. Although implant designs and materials as well as surgical techniques have been optimized, wear of the bearing surfaces or loosening of the components may occur. Additionally, although an average of 115 degrees of motion is generally anticipated after surgery, scarring of the knee can occasionally occur and motion may be more limited. This is particularly true in patients with limited motion before surgery. Finally, while rare, injury to the nerves or blood vessels around the knee can occur during surgery.

Hospital Stay

After surgery, you will be moved to the recovery room while your recovery from anesthesia is monitored. After you awaken, you will be taken to your inpatient, private room.

Call, Don't Fall

One of the highest risks for complications associated with joint replacement surgery is the danger of patients falling after surgery.

"Patients who have joint replacement surgery have typically experienced significant pain for prolonged periods of time. When they wake up post-operatively, they are suddenly pain-free due to the anesthesia and pain medication used in their operations and post-operativley,” said Kim Beekmann, R.N., CJRI’s executive director. “When they first try to stand, they often find themselves very unsteady.”

From pre-surgery classes through surgical preparations, CJRI staff stress to patients that regardless of their age or condition, they are at risk to fall following surgery.

“When patients come in for their surgery, we partner with them and family members by asking them to sign a pledge stating that they are aware that they are at risk of falling and that they will promise to give us a call anytime they need to mobilize — getting in or out of bed, a chair or the bathroom, so we can assist them,” Ms. Beekmann said. Patients are reminded of this pledge by staff at eight-hour intervals following surgery and through a message on the communication boards in their rooms that reads: Call — Don’t Fall.

In a further step to prevent patient falls, the beds on CJRI’s post-operative units are equipped with special monitors. "The beds are weight-activated so that if a certain percentage of the patient’s weight is lifted off the bed, it will trigger an alarm at the nursing station so that staff can come to make sure they have the assistance they need,” Ms. Beekmann said.

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At Home

The success of your surgery also will depend on how well you follow your orthopedic surgeon's instructions at home during the first few weeks after surgery.

Wound Care

You will have stitches or staples running along your wound or a suture beneath your skin on the front of your knee. The stitches or staples will be removed several days to weeks after surgery. A suture beneath your skin will not require removal. Avoid soaking the wound in water until the wound has thoroughly sealed and dried. The wound may be bandaged to prevent irritation from clothing or support stockings.


Some loss of appetite is common up to several weeks after surgery. A balanced diet, often with an iron supplement, is important to promote proper tissue healing and restore muscle strength.


Exercise is a critical component of home care, particularly during the first few weeks after surgery, and your active participation will affect the long-term results. You should be able to resume most normal activities of daily living within three to six weeks following surgery. Some pain with activity and at night is common for several weeks after surgery.

Your activity program should include: 

  • A graduated walking program to slowly increase mobility
  • Resuming other normal household activities, such as sitting and standing and walking up and down stairs
  • Specific exercises several times a day to restore movement and strengthen the knee. A physical therapist can help you at home or in a therapy center the first few weeks after surgery.
  • Driving once your knee bends sufficiently. Most patients resume driving about four to six weeks after surgery.

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Avoiding Complications

Preventing Blood Clots

Follow your orthopedic surgeon's instructions carefully to minimize the potential of blood clots that can occur during the first several weeks of your recovery.

Warning signs of possible blood clots in your leg include:  

  • Increasing pain in your calf
  • Tenderness above or below your knee
  • Increasing swelling in your calf, ankle and foot

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, go to the emergency room immediately.

Warning signs that a blood clot has traveled to your lung include:  

  • Sudden increased shortness of breath
  • Sudden onset of chest pain
  • Localized chest pain with coughing

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, go to the emergency room immediately.

Preventing Infection

The most common causes of infection following total knee replacement surgery are from bacteria that enter the bloodstream during dental procedures, urinary tract infections, or skin infections. These bacteria can lodge around your knee replacement surgical site and cause infection.

For the first two years after your surgery, you must take preventive antibiotics before dental or surgical procedures that could allow bacteria to enter your bloodstream. After two years, talk to your orthopedist and your dentist or urologist to see if you still need preventive antibiotics before any scheduled procedures.

Warning signs of a possible infection are: 

  • Persistent fever (higher than 100 degrees)
  • Chills
  • Increasing redness, tenderness or swelling of the knee wound
  • Drainage from the knee wound
  • Increasing knee pain with both activity and rest

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call your CJRI surgeon.

Avoiding Falls

A fall during the first few weeks after surgery can damage your new knee and may result in a need for further surgery. Stairs are a particular hazard until your knee is strong and mobile. You should use a cane, crutches, a walker, hand rails or someone to help you until you have improved your balance, flexibility, and strength.

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Your New Knee

It is normal to feel some numbness in the skin around the incision. You may also feel some stiffness, particularly with excessive bending activities. Improvement of knee motion is a goal of total knee replacement, but restoration of full motion is uncommon. The motion of your replacement after surgery depends on the motion of your knee prior to surgery. Most patients can expect to nearly fully straighten the replaced knee and to bend the knee sufficiently to go up and down stairs and get in and out of a car. Kneeling is sometimes uncomfortable, but it is not harmful. Occasionally, you may feel some soft clicking of the metal and plastic with knee bending or walking. These differences often diminish with time. Your new knee may activate metal detectors required for security in airports and some buildings.

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Joint Replacement to Restore Motion and Renew Vitality

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