What to Expect During Knee Replacement Surgery

What to Expect During Knee Replacement Surgery

Even when pain medications are no longer working, or you’re having trouble with things like getting in and out of bed, deciding to get surgery can still be difficult. Below you’ll learn what to expect during knee replacement surgery and how soon you might be back on your feet, so you can make the right decision for you.

What happens during knee replacement surgery?

More than 660,000 knee replacements are performed each year in the U.S.1, making it one of the most common orthopaedics surgeries. During the surgery, damaged cartilage and bone are removed from the knee joint and replaced with a man made joint — all in only 1-2 hours.

First, the worn surfaces at the end of the thigh bone are removed using special instruments, and the damaged joint is resurfaced with metal and plastic implants. Next, the top of the shin bone (tibia) is prepared in a similar way. The worn surface is removed, and a new tibial implant is placed on top of the remaining bone. This tibial implant holds a hard plastic spacer that will become the new shock absorber between the smooth metal coverings.

All of the components can be fixed to the bone using bone cement or a “press fit,” allowing the bone to grow into the coating on the implant. Your doctor will decide what’s right for you based on age, activity level, bone quality and any medical conditions you may have.

Last, your surgeon will bend and flex the knee to ensure that the implant is working correctly, and that the alignment, sizing and positioning are suitable. Once your new knee is secured, the incision will be closed with stitches or staples.

People holding hands at doctor office

What do I need to know about going to a doctor?

You don’t necessarily need to just live with your knee pain, you may be able to do something about it. If you feel like it’s interfering with daily activities, such as taking a shower or tying your shoelaces, then it might be time to go to a doctor. On the “Going To The Doctor” page, you’ll learn things like what doctor you need to go to and how to prepare for your appointment.

What’s the difference between a partial and total knee replacement?

The knee is made up of three areas: medial and lateral (the sides of your knee) and patella (the kneecap). When less than three of these areas need to be replaced, it’s called a unicompartmental or partial knee replacement. By replacing only the damaged areas, you are able to keep more of your own natural knee.

What happen after surgery?

After surgery, you’ll work with a physical therapist to gradually increase your knee strength and mobility. Depending on the availability of family and friends who can help you with daily activities, safety considerations and overall evaluation after surgery, you’ll either head home for your recovery or to a rehabilitation center.

Most likely, you’ll be able to drive again in about 4-6 weeks, as long as you feel comfortable and aren’t taking narcotic medications. And if your job isn’t too physically demanding, you may be able to return to work after a month. But keep in mind that everyone recovers differently, so it’s important to go at your own pace.


  1. Orthoinfo.aaos.org . Accessed on May 22, 2019.


As with any medical treatment, individual results may vary. The performance of knee replacements depends on your age, weight, activity level, and other factors. There are potential risks, and recovery takes time. People with conditions limiting rehabilitation should not have this surgery. Only an orthopaedic surgeon can determine if knee replacement is right for you.

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