For patients who have severe knee arthritis and pain despite conservative care, knee replacement surgery may be an option. Knee replacement surgery involves replacing the worn surfaces of the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone) and patella (knee cap) with metal and plastic implants.

This surgery can help restore motion to the knee and is very good for relieving pain from an arthritic knee. Patients are able to place their full weight on their operative leg immediately following surgery.  After a full period of rehabilitation, patients generally sleep better and have better function in their daily activities and non-contact recreational activities. However, knee replacement cannot make the joint as good as it was before the arthritis started.


Knee replacement is considered an elective surgery. It should be scheduled when you are in optimal health and have time and help available for the rehabilitation period. In some cases the pain and stiffness will stabilize at a level that is tolerable for you. When this happens, knee replacement can generally be delayed without compromising a future surgery.

Recovery After Surgery

Knee replacement is an inpatient surgery that requires an incision on the front of your knee and involves cutting tendons, muscle, and bone. Most patients stay in the hospital 2-3 days after surgery until their pain is controlled and they are functioning well enough to go home.

Physical therapy and your home exercise program are essential parts of your surgical treatment.  The physical therapists will work with you throughout the recovery period, starting the day after your surgery.

Most patients go home after knee replacement, but generally need help with daily activities, shopping, and driving for about six weeks after surgery. In general, patients feel significantly better by about six weeks after surgery, but often notice improvements in strength and function up to a year after surgery.

The risks associated with knee replacement are generally low, but there are some significant complications that can occur:

  • Continued pain or stiffness due to scarring in the knee
  • Pain due to irritation or tearing of the knee muscles
  • Fracture around the prosthesis
  • Dislocation
  • Infection (all patients receive antibiotics at the time of surgery to decrease this risk)
  • Loosening or wear of the metal or plastic

A more general complication of surgery can also occur. These include:

  • Deep venous thrombosis (aka “blood clot” or DVT)
  • Nerve injury (associated with numbness, weakness, or paralysis)
  • Vascular injury
  • Complications associated with the anesthesia