Arthritis is a chronic, progressive, debilitating condition without many treatment options. Simply, arthritis is the wearing of the good articular cartilage in the knee joint. There is no technique to put more cartilage in the knee. The only conservative (non-surgical) options are oral pills like, Advil or Tylenol, and injections including cortisone, protein gel, and PRP. All of these options only help with pain. They do not slow the progression of the disease. Other than pills and injections, surgery is the only other definitive option for moderate to severe arthritis.
There are different types of knee replacements available to surgeons: partial and total knee. A partial knee replaces only part of the joint, the area with the most arthritis. A total knee replaces the entire knee joint. Partial knee replacements are ideal for patients that have arthritis in ONE part of the knee. Total knee replacements are ideal for those with arthritis in 2 or all 3 compartments of the knee. To help decide which is best for you x-rays are taken and, sometimes, an MRI is required to better evaluate the quality of the cartilage. The decision to perform a partial vs total knee should be a detailed discussion between the provider and the patient.
Recovery from any surgery needs time and is different for each individual patient. Not all experiences are the same. In general, partial knee replacements recover faster than totals and act more like a natural knee. Total knee replacements can take 6-8 weeks before they are “happy” with life. This means returning to driving, grocery shopping for an hour, and cooking dinner for an hour or so. For either surgery, it can take a year or two to feel like “yours.” This means at a year or two you can go grocery shopping, go for your walk, and do some yard work, wake up in the morning and not think about the knee.
Whether a partial or a total, knee replacement is a large endeavor. It is an in-depth discussion that needs to be had with your provider but also with your family or friends, whomever your support group is. Your surgeon and healthcare team are here to support you every step of the way. Replacement is certainly something to consider if you have exhausted conservative treatment and/or your knee is affecting your daily life and keeping you from doing things you would like to be doing. Hopefully, this blog gives patients a better insight into the concept of knee replacement to help them make the best decision for themselves.