If you have moderate to severe knee arthritis and you've tried nonsurgical remedies like physical therapy and medications—but they're just not offering you relief—it may be time to consider knee surgery.
Knee surgery can be a big decision. You can be better prepared to discuss knee surgery with your doctor if you know what questions to ask.
- What type of knee surgery would be best for me?
There are several surgical options for knee arthritis, depending on the extent of your arthritis, your age, and your general physical condition, among other factors. Options include:
- Total knee replacement for knee arthritis
- Partial knee replacement (unicompartmental knee arthroplasty)
- Knee osteotomy surgery
- Knee arthroscopy
- Cartilage repair and restoration
- What results should I expect from this surgery? What are the usual outcomes for someone in my situation?
The good news is knee surgery is generally a safe surgery with good outcomes. In fact, 90% of people who have a total knee replacement have successful procedures, resulting in less pain and better mobility. But it's important that you have accurate expectations about what the surgery can accomplish and what effort you'll need to put into your recovery.
- What are possible complications and how likely are they?
Most complication rates for knee surgery are low, but complications can occur. These can include blood clots, infection, or damage to the knee or surrounding tissue.
Ask or do research to find out the complication rates for your surgeon or for the health care facility in general. Keep in mind that as a general rule, the more experience your surgeon has with that particular procedure, the better the odds for a good outcome.
- Can I do anything to increase the odds of a successful surgery?
Sometimes, there are things you can do beforehand to increase the chances for a good outcome. These can include doing exercises to strengthen the muscles that support and surround the knee, losing excess weight, or quitting smoking.
- Will I be in a lot of pain after surgery? What can be done to relieve it?
Your level of pain after surgery will depend on the type of surgery you're having. You'll be given pain medications to control pain and swelling both while in the hospital and after discharge, but which ones and for how long will vary based on your unique situation.
- Do I need to stop taking my medications before surgery?
In addition to your arthritis medications, ask your doctor whether you need to stop medications for any other health conditions, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, or supplements.
- How long will partial and full recovery take?
As mentioned above, you should understand ahead of time what's expected of you in order to reach recovery. Plan on needing to do exercises to strengthen your knee, both with a physical therapist and at home on your own. Also ask about what sort of assistance you'll need afterward to move around (i.e. walker, crutches, another person at home) and for how long.
- How should I prepare for being at home?
To help you get around safely after surgery, you may need to rearrange furniture, add railings, or use some assistance equipment, like a shower chair or toilet seat lift. Ask how long you'll need someone to provide transportation or help you around the house, if you live alone.