Surrounded by protective cartilage at the intersection of the kneecap (patella), thighbone (femur) and shinbone (tibia), the knee joint is stabilized by four ligaments: the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). The ACL and PCL direct backward and forward motion from within your knee joint, while the LCL and MCL are located on the side of your knee to control side-to-side movement. Your knee may be affected by several types of arthritis, each of which can create the need for a total knee replacement procedure. Osteoarthritis and post-traumatic arthritis can each gradually reduce your knee’s cartilage, leading to intense pain and limited knee functionality as bones rub against each other, while rheumatoid arthritis can cause stiff, rigid knee movements and cartilage reduction due to tissue-swelling and inflammation. If any of these conditions occur, your physician may recommend a total replacement of your knee.

Did You Know? As one of the medical procedures with the highest rate of success, total knee replacement surgery was first performed in 1968. Progress in the development of surgical equipment and techniques throughout the years have led to more than 600,000 knee replacements being performed annually in the U.S.

The procedure centers on resurfacing and reshaping damaged cartilage and bone and fitting the remaining area with prosthetic joints, all of which will facilitate easier post-surgical movement. Total knee replacement procedures begin with removing the ends of the femur and tibia and underlying bone and cartilage and inserting metal prosthetics through cement or press-fitting to act as an artificial joint surface in the area of the removed cartilage and bone. After these steps are taken, in many instances the underside of the kneecap will be resurfaced through the use of a plastic button, and then friction is eliminated through the placement of a plastic spacer between the existing prosthetic components. The entire procedure generally takes around one to two hours.

Immediately after surgery, most patients will spend some time in the hospital for at least a few days. Once you have returned home, you will begin working with a physical therapist to develop a rehabilitation program that involves exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet and monitoring for potential complications such as blood clots to help you achieve the best results. Many recovering patients experience progressive increases in mobility and the ability to handle daily tasks, and, as their repaired knee strengthens, can begin unassisted walking in one or two months after surgery.

Once your knee is fully healed, you can expect expanded knee functionality that will allow you to enjoy walking, swimming and other non-strenuous activities. Prior to total recovery, you will be able to resume normal activities, such as driving and walking for moderate periods of time. However, each patient’s recovery process will vary and should be developed with the assistance of his or her physician. While most people can expect to feel less pain and be better able to move, high-intensity activities such as running and jumping should generally be avoided to ensure optimal structural integrity for the knee replacement.