All You Need to Know About Knee Replacement Surgery
Humans now live longer thanks to improved medical care, but longevity can have a downside. The demand for knee replacement surgery is growing. The knee joint must be sufficiently stable and robust to support our bodies while standing, walking, running, playing sports, lifting heavy objects and performing various other strenuous activities. The joint’s anatomy is complex and designed to withstand the stresses and strains imposed by such actions.
The knee consists of two long bones, the femur and tibia, and a flat structure termed the patella or kneecap. Each articulating surface has a protective cartilage coating that allows smooth, near-frictionless movement. These components are enclosed in a fluid-filled membrane and supported by ligaments, tendons and muscles. Severe damage to any of these components will often require surgery, which might include replacement with a prosthetic substitute.
Knee Replacement Surgery is a Relatively Recent Achievement
The discovery of primitive splints and evidence of amputations confirm that orthopaedic surgery was practised during the New Stone Age. Later, the Ancient Greeks and Romans introduced methods to correct spinal deformities in children. However, joint replacements became truly feasible in the 1960s when an English surgeon named John Charnley developed a metal-on-polythene prosthesis.
Many previous attempts dating from the late 17th century established effective implantation techniques. However, the materials used were either insufficiently robust or bio-incompatible, leading to repeated failures. Statistics suggest that over three million knee replacements will be performed annually by the end of this decade.
Two Significant Advances in Knee Replacement Surgery
- New Materials: Today, stainless steel, titanium, ceramics, and plastic polymers are used in various combinations to manufacture prosthetic components, considerably extending the implants’ lifespan. In everyday use, the implanted components should remain functional for at least ten years, but they can last much longer with care.
- New Techniques: Initially, the only option for the attending surgeon was to perform a long incision to expose the joint and surrounding soft tissues completely. Access to the damaged joint involved the dissection of muscle and other tissues, adding to the patient’s recovery time. However, following the arthroscope’s invention, surgeons developed a minimally-invasive alternative requiring just three tiny incisions. One acts as a portal for the scope, which relays a magnified video image of the working area. The others provide access to miniature surgical instruments. Post-op recovery time and the risk of excessive bleeding and infection are reduced.
Signs you Might Need Knee Replacement Surgery
Several conditions might require surgery on this joint, the most common being osteoarthritis. Traumatic injuries, deformities, gout and rheumatoid arthritis, are other possible causes. However, the symptoms are generally similar; worsening pain and swelling. Initially, a GP will treat these with painkillers, but if these signs continue to increase and movement is impaired, referral to an orthopaedic surgeon for a more in-depth examination should be the next step.
Finding a Specialist in Knee Replacement Surgery
Orthopaedic surgeons often tend to specialise. Some choose to focus on trauma patients, treating fractures and other musculoskeletal injuries. By contrast, doctor Jan De Vos heads a team at Pretoria’s Wilgers Life Hospital specialising in elective procedures, including shoulder, hip and knee replacements. Due to the team’s skills, the centre has become a national and international referral destination for arthroscopy and arthroplasty. Click here to complete and submit an assessment form if you feel you might require a knee replacement.