Total Knee Replacement (TKR)

Knee

Total Knee Replacement (TKR)

Total knee replacement (TKR), also known as total knee arthroplasty, is a surgical procedure that involves replacing the weight-bearing surfaces of the knee joint with artificial implants. This surgery is a common and effective treatment option for people experiencing severe pain and disability due to advanced knee arthritis.

The knee joint is a complex structure made up of bones, cartilage, ligaments and fluids. Cartilage acts as a soft cushion between the ends of bones, allowing for pain-free movement. In knee arthritis, this cartilage degenerates and wears away, causing bone-to-bone contact, causing pain, stiffness and inflammation.

Signs and Symptoms of Knee Arthritis Leading to TKR

People experiencing the following signs and symptoms may be considered candidates for total knee replacement:

  • Severe pain: Constant or persistent pain in the knee, particularly worse with activities such as walking, climbing stairs, or kneeling. 
  • Stiffness: Difficulty bending and straightening the knee, significantly limiting daily activities. 
  • Swelling: Chronic inflammation around the knee joint. 
  • Instability: A feeling that the knee is giving way or bending, making it difficult to walk and maintain balance. 
  • Deformity: In some cases, the knee may become visibly deformed or bowed due to severe arthritis. 
  • Limited range of motion: Difficulty performing everyday tasks due to a significant restriction in knee movement. 

Total knee replacement surgery

Aims to resurface damaged joints with prosthetic components:

These implants are typically made of highly durable metal alloys and plastics designed to mimic the function of natural cartilage, providing a smoother sliding surface and reducing pain and friction. 

What causes the need for a total knee replacement?

The main reason for total knee replacement is severe arthritis of the knee, particularly osteoarthritis: 

Predisposing factors to the need for total knee replacement

While anyone can develop knee arthritis, certain factors can increase the risk of requiring a total knee replacement: 

  • Age: As we age, cartilage naturally becomes thinner and more susceptible to wear and tear. 
  • Obesity: Excess weight puts additional pressure on the knee joints, accelerating cartilage degradation. 
  • Previous injuries: Injuries such as fractures, ligament tears, or meniscus damage can increase the risk of developing arthritis in the future and potentially require TKR in severe cases. 
  • Overuse: Repetitive activities that put pressure on the knee joint, such as running, jumping, or squatting, can contribute to osteoarthritis over time. 
  • Family history: Having a family history of arthritis increases your susceptibility. 
  • Joint deformity: Certain anatomical abnormalities, such as bowed legs or knock knees, can alter the way weight is distributed across the knee joint, causing uneven wear. 

What are the Treatment Options?

Before considering total knee replacement, healthcare professionals typically explore several conservative treatment options to control pain and improve joint function: 

If these conservative approaches fail to provide adequate pain relief and significantly limit mobility, then total knee replacement might be considered.

Total Knee Replacement Surgery: Types and Considerations

There are two main surgical techniques for total knee replacement: 

  1. Conventional (traditional) TKR: This approach involves a larger incision to access the knee joint and directly visualize the structures for implant placement. 
  2. Minimally invasive TKR: This technique uses smaller incisions and special surgical tools to achieve the same outcome with potentially faster recovery times and less tissue disruption. 

The choice of technique depends on various factors, including the surgeon’s expertise, patient anatomy, and complexity of the case. 

Robotic-assisted TKR:

While not routinely used, robotic-assisted surgery is becoming increasingly available and offers potential benefits like: 

  1. Improved precision and accuracy in implant placement. 
  2. Less tissue damage compared to traditional techniques. 
  3. Potentially faster recovery times due to smaller incisions. 

However, robotic-assisted surgery is currently more expensive and not widely available, and its long-term benefits compared to traditional techniques are still under investigation. 

Recovery Time after Total Knee Replacement

The recovery time for total knee replacement can vary depending on individual factors, surgical technique, and adherence to the rehabilitation program. Generally, the recovery process can be divided into three stages: 

Hospital stays (1-3 days): 

  • Pain management is a priority through medication and physical therapy. 
  • Learning to walk with assistive devices like a walker or crutches. 

Early rehabilitation (4-6 weeks): 

  • Intensive physical therapy focusing on regaining strength, flexibility, and range of motion. 
  • Gradually transitioning from using a walker to a cane and eventually walking independently. 

Continued rehabilitation (6 months – 1 year): 

  • Continued physical therapy sessions to improve strength, stability, and balance. 
  • Gradually returning to daily activities and potentially low-impact sports with proper guidance. 

It’s crucial to remember that everyone heals at their own pace, and full recovery can take up to a year or longer, especially for individuals with significant pre-operative limitations. 

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