Indications of Total Knee Replacement: Procedure and Complications

indications of total knee replacement

Introduction: What is Total Knee Replacement Surgery?

Total knee replacement surgery, also called total knee arthroplasty, aims to alleviate pain and restore function in a severely damaged knee joint. It's typically suggested for those with advanced arthritis or substantial knee injuries that haven't responded to other treatments. The procedure involves replacing damaged parts of the knee joint with artificial components crafted from metal, plastic, or ceramic materials. This includes removing damaged cartilage and bone from the thighbone, shinbone, and kneecap and substituting them with prosthetic implants designed to replicate natural knee movement.

The TKR surgery is conducted under anaesthesia, and advancements in surgical techniques have notably enhanced its safety and effectiveness. Afterwards, patients generally engage in physical therapy to regain strength, flexibility, and mobility in the knee. Although recovery times differ, many patients report significant improvements in their pain-free daily activity performance after surgery.

While severe knee problems can greatly improve a patient's quality of life and mobility with knee replacement surgery, it is important to discuss the risks, benefits, and expectations of this procedure with a healthcare provider to determine whether it is appropriate for a given patient's particular situation.

Who is the Patient for Total Knee Replacement?

Total knee replacement (TKR) is typically considered for individuals with severe knee joint damage, often due to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or injury. Indications of total knee replacement involve chronic knee pain that significantly limits daily activities like walking, climbing stairs, or even resting comfortably. They may have tried conservative treatments like medications, physical therapy, or assistive devices without significant relief.

Candidates for TKR are usually over 50 years old, but age alone isn't the deciding factor. The suitability for surgery depends more on the level of pain, functional impairment, and overall health. Ideal candidates are those who are in good general health and free from uncontrolled medical conditions that might pose risks during surgery or recovery.

Assessment for TKR surgery involves a thorough evaluation by orthopaedic specialists who consider various factors like the extent of joint damage, lifestyle, activity levels, and medical history. TKR aims to alleviate pain, improve mobility, and enhance the overall quality of life for individuals who have exhausted other viable treatment options. Ultimately, the decision for a total knee replacement is made collaboratively between the patient and their healthcare team, weighing the potential benefits against the risks involved in surgery.

Indications of Total Knee Replacement Surgery

TKR surgery procedure is typically recommended when conservative treatments fail to relieve severe knee pain and disability. The primary indication for this surgery is advanced osteoarthritis, where the knee joint cartilage has significantly degenerated, causing immense pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility.

Indications of total knee replacement include:

  1. Severe Pain: Chronic and severe knee pain that limits daily activities, even while resting or at night, despite medications or other treatments.
  2. Functional Limitations: Difficulty in walking, climbing stairs, or performing routine tasks due to knee stiffness, instability, or weakness.
  3. Joint Damage: X-ray or imaging studies indicating substantial damage or deformity in the knee joint, such as bone-on-bone contact or significant loss of cartilage.
  4. Failure of Conservative Treatments: When other conservative measures like medications, injections, physical therapy, or assistive devices no longer provide adequate relief.
  5. Impact on Quality of Life: If knee pain and immobility significantly affect one's quality of life, leading to emotional distress or the inability to engage in enjoyable activities.

Patients experiencing these symptoms despite trying non-invasive therapies might be considered for total knee replacement after evaluation by a healthcare professional. This surgery aims to alleviate pain, restore function, and improve the overall quality of life for individuals with severely compromised knee joints.

Steps Involved in Total Knee Replacement

The surgical procedure known as total knee replacement (TKR) replaces a damaged knee joint with an artificial implant. The general TKR steps are as follows:

Preoperative Preparation:

  • Medical Evaluation: To determine the patient's suitability for surgery as well as their general health and current conditions, a thorough medical evaluation is performed.
  • Imaging: To assess the degree of knee damage and schedule surgery, X-rays, MRI scans, and other imaging methods are used.


  • Anaesthesia Selection: The patient receives either general anaesthesia (where they're unconscious) or regional anaesthesia (such as spinal or epidural anaesthesia, where the lower body is numbed).
  • Anesthesia Administration: Once the anaesthesia type is chosen, it's administered before the surgery begins.

Surgical Procedure:

  • Incision: A surgical incision, usually around 8 to 12 inches, is made on the front of the knee to access the joint.
  • Reshaping of Bones: Damaged portions of the thigh bone, shinbone, and kneecap are removed or reshaped to accommodate the prosthetic components.
  • Implant Placement: The artificial components (metal, plastic, or ceramic) that form the new knee joint are securely fixed to the prepared surfaces of the bones.
  • Closure: Once the implants are in place, the surgeon closes the incision using stitches or staples and may place a drain to remove excess fluid.

Postoperative Care:

  • Recovery in Hospital: The patient is monitored in a recovery room and then shifted to a hospital room for a few days.
  • Physical Therapy: Rehabilitation starts soon after surgery. Physical therapists assist the patient with exercises to regain knee strength, flexibility, and mobility.
  • Pain Management: Medications are provided to manage postoperative pain and discomfort.
  • Hospital Discharge: When the patient's condition stabilises, and they can perform basic tasks independently, they're discharged from the hospital.


  • At-home Care: Patients continue rehabilitation exercises at home and follow prescribed medications.
  • Follow-up Appointments: Regular check-ups with the surgeon to monitor the healing process, assess the range of motion, and ensure the knee is functioning well.

Recovery Timeline:

  • Short-term: The patient may require assistance with daily activities during the first few weeks of their recovery.
  • Long-term: It could take several months to recover fully. After surgery, most patients report significant improvements in knee function and pain relief within a few months.

Potential Risks:

  • Infection: Risk of infection at the surgical site.
  • Blood Clots: Formation of blood clots in the legs.
  • Implant Issues: Rarely, issues with the artificial joint may arise, leading to implant failure or instability.

Each patient's experience and recovery after a total knee replacement can vary based on individual health, age, and commitment to postoperative rehabilitation.


In conclusion, total knee replacement stands as a transformative solution for severe knee conditions, offering restored mobility and alleviating debilitating pain. As outlined, various indications, such as advanced osteoarthritis or injury-related damage, prompt consideration for this procedure. Despite its efficacy, potential complications, though rare, warrant careful consideration—ranging from infection to prosthesis-related issues.

Nevertheless, advancements in surgical techniques and post-operative care continue to mitigate these risks, enhancing overall success rates. Ultimately, the decision for total knee replacement requires thorough consultation between patients and healthcare providers, weighing benefits against potential complications for an improved quality of life.