Written by Dr. Alex Barilla, PT, DPT and Michelle Denniger, PTA
As you may have seen, Al Roker, host on the Today Show, underwent a knee replacement surgery in June and has been giving viewers a look at his recovery process following this surgery. A knee replacement, or total knee arthroplasty, is one of the more common orthopedic surgical procedures performed and, with the Baby Boomer generation getting older and people staying active longer, more and more people will need this surgery to help them stay active as they age.
What is a knee replacement?
A knee replacement surgery is a procedure where the surgeon will remove damaged cartilage and old bone surfaces, and replacement them with a prosthesis. The prosthesis is typically made from metal and allows for more normal motion at the knee joint and less pain.
Who would get a knee replacement?
An individual would typically elect to undergo a knee replacement if they have damaged structures within the joint. The most common reason for having a knee replacement is a history of arthritis in the knee. As arthritis progresses the cartilage in the knee becomes thin and wears out altogether resulting in the bones that make up the knee joint painfully coming into contact with each other. Usually, this damage will be very painful, can lead to clicking and catching sensations in the knee and leads to significant limitation in daily function, making simple tasks like walking, standing, and going up stairs challenging.
What is the recovery process afterwards?
Physical therapy is a vital part of the total knee replacement process, both BEFORE surgery and AFTER. Before surgery, the goal is to achieve as much range of motion and strength to maximize the surgery. After surgery, the initial focus of therapy is to decrease the swelling in the knee and increase the motion, specifically making sure the new knee bends and straightens like normal. Some individuals receive a continuous passive motion machine, which will constantly bend and straighten your leg without you doing anything! As motion improves, a physical therapist will guide an individual through the correct exercises to improve the strength in your knee, hip and surrounding musculature. A therapist will also help with strength and balance training, to assist with your walking, stair climbing and everyday activities. Once the basics are covered a good therapist will work with a patient to help them return to their favorite recreational activities and hobbies. There is nothing a therapist likes more than hearing about how a patient can return to all the activities they love without any pain.
What are the benefits?
Improved function, quality of life, and reduction in knee pain! The most common benefit is that patients who previously had excruciating pain with simple tasks such as walking, standing and using stairs are able to do these tasks without pain. Many people are able to resume very active lifestyles and a recent study showed that more than 3 out of 4 people who participated in exercise before having a knee replacement were able to return to sports after surgery.
A knee replacement is a major surgery, but the benefits can be life changing! Working with your Physical Therapist can help restore normal motion and strength to your knee and most importantly return to all the activities you love to do!
And thanks to Al Roker for supporting Physical Therapy!