• Bryan Morrow

Should You Have Knee Replacement Surgery?

Some experts question whether knee replacement surgery is being done too often or too soon on patients who have not adequately explored less invasive approaches.

The knee is the most commonly replaced joint in the body. The decision to have knee replacement surgery is one that you should make in consultation with your orthopedic surgeon and your physical therapist. Usually, total knee replacement surgery is performed when people have:

  • Knee joint damage due to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, other bone diseases, or fracture that has not responded to more conservative treatment options

  • Knee pain or alignment problems in the leg that cause difficulty with walking or performing daily activities, which have not responded to more conservative treatment options

To be sure surgery is right for you, some surgeons advise younger patients to put off replacement surgery as long as possible because those with a life expectancy of 15 years have a much better chance of avoiding a future operation than those expected to live another 30 years. Among nearly 55,000 people who had a knee replacement, 10.3 percent needed revision surgery within 20 years, although the longevity of current knee replacements is likely to be greater thanks to better prosthetic materials and surgical techniques.

Experts are now asking if all these operations are really necessary, One recent study conducted by Daniel L. Riddle, a physical therapist at Virginia Commonwealth University, and two medical colleagues, for example, examined information from 205 patients who underwent total knee replacements. Fewer than half — 44 percent — fulfilled the criteria for “appropriate,” and 34.3 percent were considered “inappropriate,” with the rest classified as “inconclusive.” Although patients with less severe pain and loss of function may still benefit from replacement surgery, the researchers suggested that their gains are likely to be smaller. “What this study does show is that the cost associated with these small changes is very high,” Dr. Riddle said. “People who are on the very severe end of the spectrum of pain and functional loss have a lot more gain to make.”

It’s important for patients to have a clear understanding of the benefits and harms of knee replacement surgery because recovery from it is no picnic.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

The physical therapist is an integral part of the team of health care professionals who help people receiving a total knee replacement regain movement and function, and return to daily activities.

Your physical therapist can help you prepare for and recover from surgery, and develop an individualized treatment program to get you moving again in the safest and most effective way possible.


The better physical shape you are in before TKR surgery, the better your results will be (especially in the short term). A recent study has shown that even 1 visit with a physical therapist prior to surgery can help reduce the need for short-term care after surgery, such as a short stay at a skilled nursing facility, or a home health physical therapy program.

Before surgery, your physical therapist may:

  • Teach you exercises to improve the strength and flexibility of the knee joint and surrounding muscles.

  • Demonstrate how you will walk with assistance after your operation, and prepare you for the use of an assistive device, such as a walker.

  • Discuss precautions and home adaptations with you, such as removing loose accent rugs that could cause you to “catch” your leg on them when maneuvering with an assistive device, or strategically placing a chair so that you can sit instead of squatting to get something out of a low cabinet. It is always easier to make these modifications before you have TKR surgery.

Longer-term adjustments that are recommended prior to surgery include:

  • Stopping smoking. Seek assistance or advice from your physician on stopping smoking, as you schedule and plan for your surgery. Being tobacco-free will improve your healing process following surgery.

  • Losing weight. Losing excess body weight may help you recover more quickly, and help improve your function and overall results following surgery.

You may stay in the hospital for a few days following surgery, or you may even go home on the same day, depending on your condition. If you have other medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, you might need to stay in the hospital or go to a skilled nursing facility for a few days before returning home. While you are in the hospital, a physical therapist will:

  • Educate you on applying ice, elevating your leg, and using compression wraps or stockings to control swelling in the knee area and help the incision heal.

  • Teach you breathing exercises to help you relax, and show you how to safely get in and out of bed and a chair.

  • Show you how to walk with a walker or crutches, and get in and out of a car.

  • Help you continue to do the flexibility and strengthening exercises that you learned before your surgery.

As You Begin to Recover

The goal of the first 2 weeks of recovery is to manage pain, decrease swelling, heal the incision, restore normal walking, and initiate exercise. Following those 2 weeks, your physical therapist will tailor your range-of-motion exercises, progressive muscle-strengthening exercises, body awareness and balance training, functional training, and activity-specific training to address your specific goals and get you back to the activities you love!

Range-of-motion exercises. Swelling and pain can make you move your knee less. Your physical therapist can teach you safe and effective exercises to restore movement (range of motion) to your knee, so that you can perform your daily activities.

Strengthening exercises. Weakness of the muscles of the thigh and lower leg could make you need to still use a cane when walking, even after you no longer need a walker or crutches. Your physical therapist can determine which strengthening exercises are right for you.

Body awareness and balance training. Specialized training exercises help your muscles "learn" to respond to changes in your world, such as uneven sidewalks or rocky ground. When you are able to put your full weight on your knee without pain, your physical therapist may add agility exercises (such as turning and changing direction when walking, or making quick stops and starts) and activities using a balance board that challenge your balance and knee control. Your program will be based on the physical therapist’s examination of your knee, on your goals, and on your activity level and general health.

Functional training. When you can walk freely without pain, your physical therapist may begin to add activities that you were doing before your knee pain started to limit you. These might include community-based actions, such as crossing a busy street or getting on and off an escalator. Your program will be based on the physical therapist's examination of your knee, on your goals, and on your activity level and general health.

The timeline for returning to leisure or sports activities varies from person-to-person; your physical therapist will be able to estimate your unique timeline based on your specific condition.

Activity-specific training. Depending on the requirements of your job or the type of sports you play, you might need additional rehabilitation that is tailored to your job activities (such as climbing a ladder) or sport activities (such as swinging a golf club) and the demands that they place on your knee. Your physical therapist can develop an individualized rehabilitation program for you that takes all of these demands into account.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

If you have knee pain, you may be able to delay the need for surgery by working with a physical therapist to improve the strength and flexibility of the muscles that support and move the knee. This training could even help you avoid surgery altogether. Participating in an exercise program designed by a physical therapist can be one of your best protections against knee injury. And staying physically active in moderately intense physical activities and controlling your weight through proper diet might help reduce the risk of osteoarthritis of the knee getting worse.


Innovative Physical Therapy is an outpatient, physical therapist-owned, facility proudly serving Baltimore City and Harford County. Visit us at one of our two convenient locations, we will create a customized physical therapy program can help individuals return to their prior level of functioning, and encourage activities and lifestyle changes that can help prevent further injury and improve overall health and well being.

Call today, 443-512-8337 or email us info@innovativeptcenters.com

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