When it is Time for a Knee Replacement – An Expert Guide
The virtual elimination of many common diseases and improved nutrition have contributed to a generation of humans with a higher life expectancy than previously. However, although people live and remain active for longer, there is a downside. Those extra years also cause added wear and tear on joints. Furthermore, the abundance of food has also led to unprecedented levels of obesity, putting more strain on younger people’s joints. Fortunately, knee replacement surgery (arthroplasty) is now commonplace and highly successful, offering patients relief from pain and impaired mobility.
Statisticians predict that, in the US alone, the number of these procedures performed annually will reach 3,5 million by 2030. There is no reason to rule out a similar trend in South Africa. How will you know if you need a prosthetic knee joint, and what should you expect if you do?
The Telltale Signs
Swelling and pain in the joint are invariably an indication that something is wrong but does not mean knee replacement surgery is automatically necessary. A sprain can be extremely painful but results from a memorable incident and responds well to medication and physiotherapy. If the pain persists despite rest and analgaesics, or if it wakes you up at night or limits your mobility, it is time to consult your doctor, who will refer you to an orthopaedic specialist if necessary.
There are several possible indications for surgery. The most common is osteoarthritis – a degenerative disease in which the protective cartilage layer becomes eroded, exposing the underlying bone to friction and damage and the need for a knee replacement.
The Procedure and Beyond
Replacing the damaged bone surfaces entails cutting them away, covering the exposed tissue with a metal or ceramic cap, and inserting a plastic disc between them to smooth their action. The procedure may involve exposing the entire joint or a minimally invasive procedure called arthroscopy. The latter employs three tiny keyhole incisions, and patients require less post-operative recovery time. However, arthroscopy is not suitable for everyone and is often reserved for younger subjects.
Following your knee replacement, you will be encouraged to start walking with an appropriate aid. You will generally be discharged within two to three days and able to resume most of your usual activities within about six weeks. You will continue to need pain relief during that time and might be left with a slight limp.
If you should prove to be a candidate for arthroplasty, be sure to ask your family doctor to refer you to the team at the orthopaedic department of Pretoria’s Life Wigers Hospital. The unit is South Africa’s acknowledged centre of excellence in the field of knee replacement surgery.