Over 4.5 million Americans have currently undergone at least one total knee replacement surgery, and 1.5 million of those people are between the ages of 50 and 69.
A total knee replacement can be beneficial for seniors (and others), but it’s important to know what one is getting into before deciding to go under the knife.
Don’t miss this essential guide to everything that seniors should know before they undergo a total knee replacement surgery.
What is a Total Knee Replacement Surgery?
A total knee replacement is a surgery that replaces the surface of the bones in the knee after they’ve undergone extensive damage.
During the surgery, doctors remove damaged cartilage and insert metal implants to recreate the knee joint’s surface.
Who Should Get a Total Knee Replacement?
There are many reasons why doctors recommend total knee replacement, including the following:
- Severe knee pain that limits daily activity
- Chronic inflammation that does not improve with the help of medication and rest
- Knee deformities, such as bowing of the knees
There are no age or weight restrictions associated with total knee replacement.
How Effective is the Surgery?
In most cases, a total knee replacement surgery is highly effective. In fact, more than 90 percent of people see a dramatic reduction in their pain and improvements in their ability to perform daily tasks. However, people who undergo surgery usually are not able to be as active as they were before they developed knee pain.
The effects of knee replacements typically last for years, as long as activities are modified and the individual makes an effort to prevent injuries and avoids activities that could loosen the replacement (high-impact sports, running, jumping, etc.).
How to Prepare for Surgery
Prior to undergoing a total knee replacement, seniors will need to take the following steps to make sure their health is good enough:
- Medical evaluation (includes blood tests, urine samples, electrocardiograms, etc.)
- Discussion about current medications
- Dental evaluations to reduce risk of infection
It’s also important for seniors to make sure they have a plan in place so that they will be supported post-surgery. They’ll need help with tasks like bathing, cooking, and shopping for several weeks after their operation.
They should also take steps to make their home safe for them as they recover, such as:
- Installing safety bars in bathrooms and along staircases
- Installing a toilet seat riser to make going to the bathroom easier
- Investing in a shower chair or bench
- Getting rid of loose carpets and rugs
- Investing in walking aids to move around more easily
What to Expect During Recovery
Within 24 hours of surgery, patients are often asked to stand and take a few steps with the help of a walker or physical therapists. Those who are able to stand and bear a bit of weight on their new knee tend to recover faster than those who don’t.
Most people stay in the hospital for several days after surgery before heading home. When they do return home, they’ll be given pain management instructions, including a prescription for painkillers.
In addition to using painkillers as necessary, patients will also have to make an effort to control swelling. Icing and elevation in 20- or 30-minute intervals is usually sufficient, but non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also help.
They may also be given physical therapy exercises to do each day to improve range of motion and maintain strength post-surgery.
Tips to Speed Up Recovery
The recovery process can be quite long (it usually lasts several weeks), but you can speed up the process somewhat by taking the following steps:
- Keep up with physical therapy and at-home exercises
- Perform low-impact exercise (walking, cycling, swimming) as you’re able
- Using walking aids like wheeled walkers during recovery to avoid putting too much weight on the knee
- Keeping the knee joint straight and avoiding kneeling, squatting, and other positions that put strain on the knee
A total knee replacement can be an intimidating procedure for many seniors, but knowing what to expect and knowing what to do to expedite recovery can help them take fear out of the equation and make the right choice for their needs.