Deciding About Knee Replacement Surgery

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Completed knee replacement surgery

How can you decide about knee replacement surgery?

What is knee replacement surgery?

Knee replacement surgery replaces the worn ends of the thighbone (femur) and the lower leg bone (tibia) where they meet at the knee. Your doctor will take out the damaged bone and replace it with plastic and metal parts. These new parts may be attached to your bones with cement.

You will need a lot of rehabilitation, or rehab, after surgery. This takes several weeks. But you should be able to start to walk, climb stairs, sit in and get up from chairs, and do other daily movements within a few days.

What are key points about this decision?

  • The decision you and your doctor make depends on how much pain and disability you have. It also depends on your age, health, and activity level.
  • Most people have this surgery only when they can no longer control knee pain with other treatments and when the pain disrupts their lives.
  • Rehab after this surgery means doing daily exercises for several weeks.
  • Most knee replacements (about 90 out of 100) last about 20 years. You may need to have the knee replaced again.

Why might you choose to replace your knee?

  • You are not able to do most of your activities without pain.
  • You have very bad arthritis pain. Other treatments have not helped.
  • You do not have other health problems that would make surgery too risky.
  • You are not worried that you may need to have another knee replacement later in life.
  • You aren't worried about side effects. These may include infections, blood clots, and loss of range of motion.
  • You are willing to do weeks of rehab.
  • You want to have the surgery before you lose too much of your ability to be active. If you are not able to stay active, strong, and flexible before the surgery, it can be harder to return to your normal activities after the surgery.

Why might you choose not to replace your knee?

  • You can still do most of your activities.
  • You have other health problems that may make surgery too risky.
  • You want to try all other treatments first.
  • You want to avoid the side effects of surgery.
  • You can't do rehab after surgery.
  • You worry that you may need another knee replacement later in life.

Your decision

Thinking about the facts and your feelings can help you make a decision that is right for you. Be sure you understand the benefits and risks of your options, and think about what else you need to do before you make the decision.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.