Why and When You Might Need a Knee Replacement
Aches and pains in our joints are a relatively common feature of everyday life. We often sit at a desk too long and develop a backache or perhaps overdo things while exercising and experience a bit of stiffness and joint pain. Most of the time, things return to normal quite quickly, with the aid of a few painkillers and some rest. Sometimes, a joint problem may be more serious. The pain and swelling may eventually fail to respond to palliative treatments. In such cases, a shoulder, hip, or knee replacement will often be the only viable option.
Joints are complex. In addition to bones and cartilage, they are secured by ligaments and are attached to muscles by tendons. The entire structure is enclosed in a fluid-filled membrane that provides lubrication. An injury to any of these components can prove painful and might limit the joint’s mobility. Some of these injuries might heal naturally or respond well to non-surgical treatments. However, some form of surgery is often required to treat several types of joint damage, although not always as radical as a knee replacement.
Replacing a damaged joint with a prosthetic one is known as arthroplasty, and it is most frequently necessary for patients with osteoarthritis. In health, the articulating surfaces of the femur and tibia are coated with cartilage. This protective layer enables frictionless movement between the two surfaces. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage layer becomes eroded, allowing painful and damaging bone-on-bone contact. Although the condition is widely associated with ageing, other diseases, heredity, obesity, and repeated traumatic injuries are all associated with the early onset of osteoarthritis and the need for a knee replacement in patients aged under 50.
Arthroplasty will not always be necessary, at least during the early years of the condition. Patients with a swollen and painful joint often first report to their primary care doctor. After confirming a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, the GP will generally prescribe anti-inflammatory medication and some mild physiotherapy to strengthen the muscles and ligaments that support the joint. If painkillers become ineffective, the next step is often periodic steroid injections. A GP will generally suggest a knee replacement only when these palliative treatments fail to control the pain and mobility is impaired.
Arthroplasty is a procedure with an excellent record of success and is frequently acclaimed by orthopaedic surgeons as their specialist discipline’s most successful intervention. Today, surgeons often employ a minimally invasive procedure that reduces the risk of complications associated with open surgery and speeds post-operative recovery. The orthopaedic unit at Pretoria’s Life Wilgers Hospital is now a leading destination for local and overseas patients needing a knee replacement.