Overview of Knee Replacement

The knee is one of the most complex joints in the body. The knees support the body's entire weight and are vulnerable to injury and arthritis (e.g., osteoarthritis). Arthritis in the knee can cause significant joint damage, result in severe knee pain, and make it difficult to walk or climb stairs. Severe cases can cause the thigh to become misaligned with the lower leg.

Treatment for knee pain and joint damage caused by injury or arthritis may involve weight loss, over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription pain relievers, physical therapy, use of a cane or walker, steroid injections, or a combination of these therapies. Severe damage to the knee that does not respond to these treatments may require total knee replacement.

Knee replacement is a surgical procedure that involves removing the kneecap (patella) and damaged cartilage and tissue from the knee joint, the ends of the thighbone (femur), and the shinbone (tibia). Damaged tissue is then replaced with an artificial knee (prosthesis) made of metal and plastic. The prosthesis restores the function of the knee.

When considering total knee replacement surgery, patients should consult with qualified health care providers, including a primary care doctor and an orthopedic surgeon, as well as with family members. Proper care after the surgery, which may involve post-surgical care in an extended care facility, is vital to ensure a successful knee replacement and complete recovery.

Knee replacements are most commonly performed in people between 60 and 80 years of age. However, younger people with severe knee pain and disability also may benefit from the procedure. In the United States, hundreds of thousands of knee replacement surgeries are performed each year.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 11 Jan 2010

Last Modified: 28 Sep 2015