Generally, any knee surgery to alleviate arthritis pain is considered elective surgery, meaning it is up to the patient to decide whether or not to have surgery. Typically, patients who have knee arthritis consider surgery when:

  • Quality of life is significantly affected because of pain and functional limitations
  • Non-surgical solutions to control pain, such as medication and physical therapy, have been tried for several months or longer without satisfactory improvement
  • An X-ray or MRI confirms knee joint degeneration.

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Of course, people differ in what they consider “significant” quality of life changes as well as their tolerance for pain. Some people consider knee arthritis a significant problem if it prevents them from participating in sports or taking extended walks. Other people do not consider knee arthritis to be a significant problem until pain interrupts sleep or affects their ability to do even simple activities, such as household chores.


When a person is ready to consider knee surgery, his or her doctor may recommend one or two surgical options. The most common surgeries to treat knee arthritis are:

  • Total knee replacement (total knee arthroplasty)
  • Partial knee replacement (unicompartmental knee arthroplasty)
  • Knee osteotomy (tibial osteotomy or femoral osteotomy)
  • Knee arthroscopy
  • Cartilage repair and restoration

It is important to note that a surgery that works well for one knee arthritis patient may not work well for another. Knee anatomy and knee joint degeneration can vary considerably from person to person. There is also variability among hospitals and surgeons, both in terms of surgical techniques and experience.

See What to Expect After Knee Replacement

Elective knee surgery can be scheduled for a time that is convenient for the patient. Patients can plan around life events such as retirements, weddings, and vacations, to make sure that they can put 100% effort into rest and rehabilitation in the weeks following surgery.

Dr. Vivek Sood is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in joint replacement, reconstructive surgery, foot and ankle, and outpatient total knee surgery. He practices at Bay Area Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. He went on to receive advanced training in adult joint reconstruction at Rush University Medical Center and in foot and ankle surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center.