Knee Replacement Problems

Knee replacement problems are usually fairly minor and short lived, with approximately 90% of knee replacements being extremely successful. But occasionally, problems do develop.  All surgery carries risks and in the early days following surgery, things can feel uncomfortable. 

The best way to ensure you make a great recovery after a knee replacement is to do knee replacement exercises both before and after surgery until you have regained full movement, strength and function in your new knee.

Here we will look at the most common total knee replacement problems people experience in both the short term and long term, the risks associated with having surgery and how to tell if something is really wrong.  Alternatively, visit the partial knee replacement problems section.

Short Term Problems

Short term problems tend to be fairly minor and settle down within a few weeks.  The most common knee replacement problems are:

Total knee replacement scar with staples

1) Pain

Once the anaesthesia wears off, the knee may feel sore as a result of the surgery both inside the knee and around the scar.  It is really important to be having effective pain relief to keep this under control.  Don't try and manage without medication too quickly.  It is much better to take prescribed medication to keep the pain under control so you can start you rehab exercises and get up and about.

People often find the very quickly the knee feels much better and actually less painful than before the operation as you no longer have the arthritis pain and the knee is able to move more freely.

2) Numbness

Another common knee replacement problem people sometimes find is that it may also feel a bit numb around their scar – this can happen because some of the small nerves that supply feeling to the skin are cut during the operation. Nerves can take up to two years to fully heal so you may notice improvement up until then. Any resultant numbness after that time is not likely to change.

3) Swelling

Swelling is one of the most common knee replacement problems.  There is usually swelling around the knee for the first few days after surgery.  The knee is initially bandaged to help reduce this.  Once the bandage is removed, tubigrip compression bandages can be used to help reduce the swelling and support the knee. 

Keeping the leg elevated when you are lying down or sitting helps the excess fluid drain away from the knee and reduce swelling. 

Another thing that can help is using ice therapy.  When used properly, this helps to slow the blood flow and any bleeding in the joint, reducing swelling.  There are a number of different ways to apply ice.  Cryo cuffs are often used in hospitals and once you get home you can use an ice pack - find out more in the ice wraps section.

Movement and exercise is another great way to reduce swelling as it pumps the fluid out of the joint.  However, you have to get the right balance.  If you try and do too much too soon, you can actually make the swelling worse.  Follow the guidance of your physical therapist.

4) Strange Noises

Sometimes people find that their knee makes funny creaking/cracking/ popping noises after a knee replacement. This is nothing to worry about and usually settles down within a few months as everything heals.

Long Term Knee Replacement Problems

Longer term knee replacement problems are rare but include:

1) Wearing of the prosthesis: 85% of knee replacements last at least 20 years

2) Loosening of the prosthesis: 1.4% of patients require a repeat total knee replacement, known as a revision knee replacement

3) Infection in the knee joint:
this can occur years after surgery

Risks of Surgery

With any surgery, there are risks. These include bleeding and infection. Risks for anaesthesia include breathing problems and reactions to the medications.

Knee replacement problems are rare

Specific risks for a knee replacement include:
1) Blood clots:
these can travel around the body and cause problems such as heart attack or stroke
3) Blood vessel/nerve damage: may affect the sensation around the knee joint
4) Pain kneeling: you may need to kneel on a cushion
5) Complex Regional Pain Syndrome: rare problem with circulation and sensation leading to pain and swelling

How Do I Know If Something's Wrong?

Whilst serious knee replacement problems are rare they can be serious.  You will know if something is seriously wrong as the knee will become very painful, it may swell and you may notice redness around the knee joint. Occasionally this may be accompanied by a fever. If this happens talk to your doctor immediately.

Find Out More

If you want to know more about knee replacement surgery, visit the sections below:

TKR Overview: Including how to tell if you would benefit from surgery
What actually happens during the operation
Including what you can do to get the best results
Including a guide to when you can return to activities
Common Questions:
Answers to the most frequently asked questions after knee replacements
Partial Knee Replacements:
Less invasive surgery where only one side of the knee is replaced

Go to Knee Replacement Overview or Homepage

Your Comments

Share your knee pain experiences with others, whether it be ideas, top tips, things that worked well for you, problems you've had etc.......

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The material on this website is intended for educational information purposes only.  It should not substitute or delay medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


See Also

What is Arthritis?

15 simple ways to reduce arthritis pain

Exercises to improve arthritis

Other common causes of pain

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