In my experience, nobody likes to hear they need surgery. Surgery is scary. It’s dangerous—or at least it sounds dangerous. The recovery is often difficult, and the whole process is painful.
That’s a lot of reasons not to want surgery. It’s also why responsible doctors usually turn to surgery as a last resort. But, under the right circumstances, surgery can be a good choice. Some discomfort in the short term can lead to a higher quality of life in the long term.
This is particularly true of knee surgery.
Why Knee Surgery? Why Now?
The two most common reasons that your doctor will recommend knee surgery are because of an injury or arthritis. In either circumstance, damage to the knee joint makes movement painful and mobility difficult.
Many knee injuries will heal themselves over time. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, physical therapy, glucosamine supplements, or anti-inflammatory medications to help speed healing. These same steps can also help slow damage from arthritis.
Sometimes an injury doesn’t heal as hoped or arthritis gets worse over time. When your pain is severe and unrelenting, bothering you whether you’re moving around or resting, your doctor may recommend knee surgery. There are three common methods: arthroscopic, a partial knee replacement, and a total knee replacement.
Arthroscopic surgery uses a small camera, inserted into a small incision. The doctor uses the camera to assess the damage and then uses additional small incisions to go in and make repairs. Using the video camera as a guide, the doctor is able to repair a torn meniscus, minor arthritic damage, damaged ligaments, or misaligned kneecaps in a less invasive way. Recovery from arthroscopic surgery usually takes four to six weeks.
A partial knee replacement is done when the cartilage is so damaged that bone is rubbing against bone within your knee joint. During the surgery, an implant is placed in the knee to provide cushion to the joint.
A total knee replacement is done when more than one part of the knee is damaged and can’t be easily corrected with the other procedures. The doctor will open your knee, cut away the damaged areas and implant a prosthetic joint to restore pain-free function. Clearly, this is the most invasive option when it comes to knee surgery.
The recovery time for partial and total knee replacements varies and depends a great deal on your commitment to doing the prescribed physical therapy. Once you do recover, you won’t have quite the same range of motion you once did and you’ll have to avoid high impact activities, but you’ll be able to move pain free in your day-to-day life.
Make Your Knee Surgery and Recovery Go As Smoothly as Possible
The key to the smoothest surgery and quickest recovery possible is open communication with your doctor.
When getting ready for the surgery let the doctor know weeks ahead of time what prescriptions and supplements you take. Then follow his advice on whether or not to discontinue use leading up to the surgery. Cut smoking (hopefully you don’t smoke!) and drinking to a minimum in the week before your surgery. And ask your doctor what exercises you can do before hand that will make recovery easier.
Once the surgery is complete, the most important part of your recovery is physical therapy (PT). In most cases, you’ll begin PT within 48 hours of the surgery. You may need to wear an immobilizer to keep your knee stable while it’s healing. Ask your doctor and physical therapist about a continuous passive motion device. These machines work your knee joint while you relax and can speed up your recovery.
Remember to be patient while you’re healing. It’s a painful and uncomfortable process, but it’s worth it. Eventually, you’ll be able to go through your everyday life pain free, and you can’t beat that.