If you’re reading this, you’ve been dealing with knee pain, stiffness or mobility issues for quite some time – and you’re wondering when enough is enough.
You want to play with your grandkids. You want to enjoy a game of tennis. You want to live your life pain-free. But is it really time for a knee replacement?
When more conservative treatments have stopped working well, a knee replacement surgery can be a fantastic option to get you back to living your best life. It’s generally considered a safe procedure and has a high rate of success. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) reports that more than 90% of modern knee replacements are still functioning well 15 years after surgery.
In our experience, many of our patients tell us that they wish they had made the decision to get their knee replaced sooner. But getting a knee replacement is a big decision. And the first step is making sure you’re a good candidate.
So, is knee replacement surgery right for you? Below we cover six signs that it may be time, and that you should talk with your doctor.
1. Non-surgical treatment options are no longer working
When your knee pain first started, lasting relief may have been as simple as reaching for a couple ibuprofen, using an ice pack or taking a hot bath. But as time has gone on, these home remedies may have started to lose their effectiveness.
The good news is that other non-surgical options for knee pain exist – and you’ve likely tried some already, including: physical therapy, cortisone injections, orthobiologics or weight loss.
From our perspective, creating a tailored treatment plan that includes a combination of these treatments is the first step toward helping you heal your knee pain. In our experience, surgery is rarely the first or only knee pain treatment option.
But at some point, these non-surgical options may no longer provide the relief or healing power they once did. For example, a cortisone injection used to give you relief for six months or more, but now you’re lucky to get weeks of relief. Or maybe your mobility has continued to decline, making regular physical therapy and exercise increasingly painful. If any of this sounds familiar, it may be time to start the conversation around a knee replacement.
2. Your knee pain is getting more intense and frequent
We all feel an occasional twinge in our knees after a long car ride or a long day on our feet. While annoying, this is totally normal – and these aches are usually gone almost as quickly as they appeared. But feeling regular knee pain or intense knee pain isn’t normal.
Pain feels a little different for everyone, but there are some common types of pain we tell our patients to pay attention to, including:
- Knee pain that lasts for more than a couple weeks
- Knee pain that keeps you awake at night
- Knee aches during and after exercise
- Knee pain that doesn’t respond to over-the-counter medications, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen
- Knee pain that gets worse in humid or cold weather
This nagging and disruptive knee pain can be a sign that joint wear and tear is getting worse. And the more worn out your joint becomes, the more complicated knee replacement surgery and recovery can be.
If your knee pain is getting worse over time or becoming more frequent, don’t ignore it. As we already mentioned, there may be some additional non-surgical treatments that may be able to help. Or, if you and your doctor decide you are a candidate for a replacement, you can time your knee replacement surgery just right so you can get the most benefit from the procedure.
3. Your mobility has become increasingly limited
It’s normal to lose some joint flexibility as you get older. But persistent knee stiffness that effects your mobility can be a sign of a more complicated knee concern.
What do you need to be on the lookout for? These are the most common mobility issues we see in our patients when we begin discussing knee replacement surgery:
- Knee stiffness that becomes worse after sitting for a long period of time, like on a long car ride or during a movie
- Knee stiffness that requires the use of a cane or other mobility device
- Difficulty walking or climbing stairs, standing up from chairs or climbing out of the bathtub
- Morning knee stiffness that lasts for up to 30 minutes
One of the most important things to keep in mind here is that losing mobility can effect more than just your ability to get around. As mobility decreases, inactivity increases. And the less you move, the more your joint function and muscle strength can decline. If you lose too much strength and function, it’s likely that you won’t get the maximum results from a knee replacement because your body may not be able to recover as well.
4. You notice swelling in your knee
Cartilage helps protect your knee from pressure and friction caused by walking and moving. Knee conditions, including knee osteoarthritis, can cause the cartilage around your knee to wear out. Arthritis is painful and leads to inflammation. And when knees become inflamed, they can swell.
So, if you’re experiencing consistent or recurring knee swelling – don’t let it go. For starters, you’re likely experiencing increasing pain or mobility issues, too. Plus, consistent or recurring knee swelling can be a sign of cartilage damage, which can lead to more wear and tear.
5. It’s becoming more difficult to do everyday activities
Putting off a trip to the store until tomorrow because you’re still achy from your workout is normal. But it’s not normal to struggle with daily activities because of persistent knee pain.
What do we mean by daily activities? For starters, if you’re finding it increasingly difficult to sit down, stand up or climb stairs without pain, stiffness or assistance, take note.
If you’re also having difficulty with activities like going grocery shopping or getting dressed – or you’re starting to completely avoid them – because your pain and lack of mobility has increased significantly, don’t delay getting the care you need.
6. You’ve had to stop doing the things you love
We all slow down a little as we age. Running your yearly marathon might become nightly walks around your neighborhood after dinner. Or you may stop playing competitive hockey in favor of casual games with friends. Making small adjustments because you’re just not as spry as you used to be is part of life. But knee pain shouldn’t keep you from doing activities you love.
No matter your passions, if you’re pulling back or avoiding the things you love to do, talk with an experienced orthopedic doctor. At TRIA, we have orthopedic surgeons who specialize in working with people at all activities levels. Whether you want to get back to cross-country skiing or walking your dog, our doctors can work with you to create a plan that fits your lifestyle.
Are you seeing the signs of a knee replacement surgery? Then it may be time to talk with a doctor.
If you have one or more of the signs that it might be time for a knee replacement surgery, make an appointment with one of our orthopedic doctors to talk about your options.
During your appointment, your doctor will perform an evaluation, which may include an X-rays or MRI of your knee. They’ll also talk to you about how your knee pain affects your ability to do activities you love and your goals for knee replacement surgery.
If surgery is your best option, they’ll talk to you about what to expect, timing your surgery, the risks of knee replacement surgery and the recovery process. For the vast majority of people, knee replacement surgery provides a major improvement in their pain and mobility.
When you’re ready to talk about surgery, make sure you’re working with the best. At TRIA, our orthopedic surgeons understand that choosing to get your knees replaced is a personal decision. We never push patients toward surgery and will work with you to find a different treatment plan if you’d prefer.