The need to replace a knee may arise if you have osteoarthritis, have suffered trauma or have any of several degenerative diseases. In the United States, osteoarthritis is the most common reason to have a knee replacement procedure performed. In some cases, the pain and stiffness in the joint will get progressively worse if the patient does not get their knee replaced. The knee replacement procedure involves replacing the joint with a man-made prostheses.
Risks Associated with Knee Replacement Surgery
As with all surgical procedures, knee replacement does present certain risks. Complications occur after about 40 percent of joint replacement surgeries. The risks you face include:
- Blood clots
These may form in the legs (deep vein thrombosis) or in the lungs (pulmonary embolism). While clots in the legs do not usually present a significant health risk, surgeries like knee replacement do place you at a higher risk of developing them when compared to other procedures. They may occur at any time up to two weeks after the surgery. Blood clots can sometimes break off and travel to the heart or lungs where they can cause serious problems or death.
Infections arising from knee replacement surgery are relatively rare, but patients with rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes face an increased risk in the weeks after the procedure. It is thought that their weakened immune systems are responsible for the higher infection rates.
- Wound Complications
Wounds are sometimes slow to heal. The time it takes for wounds to heal may be drawn out due to the use of blood thinners, which can worsen bleeding complications. A Baker's cyst is a fluid buildup behind the knee and is another complication that can arise after knee replacement. It may be necessary to drain the cyst with a needle.
- Nerve Damage
The nerves that go to the foot can be damaged during the procedure. If this happens, you may have to deal with numbness for up to several months after the surgery.
Is Knee Replacement Surgery Overused?
According to USA Today, the number of knee replacement procedures has increased by over 161 percent over the last two decades. This increase has led some to question whether the procedure is being overused. Roughly 34 percent of the people in a recent study by the Virginia Commonwealth University were found to have had unnecessary knee replacement surgery.
The study used criteria such as the patient's range of motion and the severity of their arthritis to determine whether the surgeries were necessary. Most of the 34 percent had moderate symptoms and the damage to their joints was not widespread. The study deemed only 44 percent of the procedures performed to have been appropriate and 22 percent were categorized as "inconclusive."
Alternatives to Knee Replacement Surgery
Knee replacement surgery is a serious procedure. Aside from the risks, there are other reasons that you should look into alternatives; the reasons include the fact that it involves a long recovery period. The length of the recovery period means that you may be unable to work for several weeks after surgery. Full recovery can take as long as a year.
As we have outlined in our case against knee replacement surgery, there are several problems associated with the procedure. However, advances in medical technology have given rise to several non-surgical treatment options that are having very positive results. Some of these alternatives are:
This treatment involves the injection of hyaluronic acid into the knee as a means of improving the joint's mobility. Hyaluronic acid makes up a part of the synovial fluid found in joints; it acts as a lubricant and shock absorber. The synovial fluid found in the joints of people with osteoarthritis often contains lower levels of hyaluronic acid.
- Stem Cell Therapy
This is one of the newer alternatives to total knee replacement. It involves using stem cells from your hip to generate cartilage for your knee.
A dextrose solution injected into the ligament or tendon may help the tissue in the knee to repair itself. The solution works by increasing the flood flow to the ligament or tendon.
- Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP)
Injections of components of your own blood into your knee can provide relief from knee pain and stiffness. The injections contain your own growth factors and platelets, which help to promote growth in the knee.
Knee replacement surgery is a worthwhile option under the right circumstances; however, it is a serious procedure that should not be undertaken without considering the alternatives. Postponing the procedure until the alternatives have been tried is the best option for many patients as the prostheses do not last forever. By waiting, you can increase the chances you will only need to undergo the procedure once.
As with any form of medical treatment, you should consult with your physician before embarking on any treatment plan. The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be deemed accurate for the purposes of diagnosing your particular medical condition.