How Long Does a Knee Replacement Last? What to Expect after Surgery

How Long Does a Knee Replacement Last? What to Expect after Surgery

More than 790,000 Americans undergo knee replacement each year. Maybe you're among them or are considering a knee replacement. Either way, you want to know, "How long does a knee replacement last?"

The vast majority of patients who opt for a total knee replacement find that their new joint functions well for 20 years or more. Meanwhile, most patients who undergo a partial knee replacement enjoy the benefits of a well-functioning joint for at least 10 years.

What Happens During Knee Replacement Surgery?

Knee replacement surgery is also called knee arthroplasty. Patients suffering from severe arthritis choose this procedure to relieve pain and improve mobility. As you age, the cartilage in your joints deteriorates. As a result, bone begins rubbing on bone, causing severe pain.

This pain can affect one or both knees. If you're suffering from bilateral knee pain, you'll need to weigh the pros and cons of double knee replacement. These include the cost and risk of complications. They also include the length and logistics of your recovery. 

Whether you opt for a single or double knee replacement, however, the procedure remains the same. Your doctor will remove worn-out cartilage and bone from your joint. She'll then replace the worn-out tissue with a new joint made of synthetic materials.

Some knee implants use all metal or all ceramic. Others combine metal with plastic or ceramic with plastic. The most common type of implant uses a combination of metal alloys, like cobalt chrome and titanium, and durable plastics. 

How Long Does a Knee Replacement Last?

Like your natural joint, your new knee joint is subject to wear and tear. Over time, the new joint can deteriorate and require a second knee replacement. The longevity of a new knee joint depends on various factors. 

How Long Does a Total Knee Replacement Last?

Total knee replacement generally lasts longer than partial knee replacement. A study conducted in 2017 found that 90% of patients who had undergone a full knee replacement still enjoyed a functioning joint more than 20 years later.

It should be noted that these results offer the most optimistic prognosis for full knee replacement patients. Nevertheless, studies consistently describe the longevity of full knee replacement in terms of decades rather than years.

In fact, another study found that only 6.2% of patients needed a second knee replacement within 10 years.

How Long Does a Partial Knee Replacement Last?

If you opt for a partial knee replacement, you should anticipate a revision surgery sooner. In the study above, 15.5% of patients who had undergone a partial knee replacement needed a second surgery within 10 years.

How Long Does a Titanium Knee Replacement Last?

Titanium and chromium cobalt alloys are the most common types of metal used in knee implants. Experts have not reached a consensus about which metal is best. Still, each has its advantages and uses.

Both cobalt chrome and titanium are bio-compatible and corrosion-resistant. This means that they won't change after being implanted in the body.

Of the two, though, chromium cobalt alloys are harder than titanium. Thus, implants most often use titanium when high strength isn't necessary.

They may also use titanium in areas of the implant that come in contact with the patient's natural bone. For example, some implants include a layer of fiber metal on the surface of the joint. This layer consists of titanium alloys. It allows the natural bone to grow into the implant, improving durability.

Because their density and elasticity mirror natural bone, titanium implants also reduce the risk of serious complications. These include bone atrophy and resorption. Such complications can decrease the implant's longevity and require revision. Since cobalt chrome is less elastic, it functions less like the natural joint. Therefore, it is associated with a greater incidence of these complications.

Finally, some patients choose titanium over cobalt chrome because they worry about the implant releasing metal ions. While the likelihood of an allergic reaction to a chromium cobalt implant is low, patients with allergies to certain metals, like nickel, should discuss their concerns with a doctor. Alternatives include not just other metals, like titanium, but also ceramics. 

What Other Factors Influence How Long a Knee Replacement Will Last?

The extent of your surgery and the type of materials are two factors that determine your implant's longevity. However, other factors, including your age, weight, and activity levels, play a role.

Patient Age

Younger patients place greater demands on their joints. First, this is a matter of years. Younger patients are likely to require their new joint to function for a longer period of time. Second, younger patients tend to be more active before and after surgery. 

Patients who undergo their first knee replacement at age 50 or younger can, therefore, expect a second knee replacement in the coming decades.

Patient Weight

Your knees are load-bearing joints. The more weight they carry, the more likely they are to deteriorate. This is true of both natural joints and implants.

Studies show that osteoarthritis of the knee is more prevalent among overweight and obese patients. In one study, only 3.7% of patients with a normal weight had osteoarthritis. Meanwhile, 19.5% of severely obese people had osteoarthritis.

Obesity is, in fact, among the most common factors contributing to knee replacement in younger patients.

Patients who undergo knee replacement experience similarly varied outcomes depending on their weight. In one study, morbidly obese patients who lost 20 pounds before surgery saw significantly more positive postoperative outcomes.

Patient Activity Level

Any discussion of a patient's age and weight involves discussing his or her activity level. Younger patients often opt for knee replacement so that they can stay active. Meanwhile, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight requires a healthy level of activity.

Whether before or after surgery, knee pain can limit patients' activities. Knee replacement can relieve this pain, allowing patients to become more active and potentially lose weight. However, knee implants are not designed to handle the full range of activities an otherwise healthy person might enjoy. 

The following activities are generally safe for patients with knee implants:

  • Walking or hiking
  • Riding a bicycle
  • Swimming
  • Gentle aerobic exercises
  • Low-resistance weight training
  • Elliptical, skiing, or rowing machines

You should, however, avoid the following activities after knee replacement:

  • Jogging or running
  • High-impact aerobics
  • Baseball, basketball, football, and soccer
  • Hockey
  • Gymnastics
  • Powerlifting

Because these activities are high-impact, they put significant stresses on your knees. They also place you in situations where you're more likely to twist your knee or suffer a blow to the joint.

Such a blow can damage even a healthy knee. After knee replacement surgery, the resulting damage can be debilitating. It can even require a second knee replacement.

Some recent studies suggest more promising results for patients hoping to return to high-impact activities. Improvements in the technology and design of implants feed these hopes. Still, evaluating the longevity of an implant under various circumstances requires time. Thus, scientific evidence for the safety of high-impact activities after knee replacement remains limited.

What Can You Do to Care for Your Knee Replacement and Increase Its Longevity?

The following tips can help you maximize the benefits of your knee replacement. They can also help you avoid a second knee replacement for as long as possible.

1. Follow Your Doctor's Recommendations

First and foremost, rely on your doctor's advice as you recover from surgery and return to your activities. Don't rush your recovery, and don't engage in risky activities. 

2. Stay Active

Avoiding risky activities doesn't mean avoiding activities altogether. In fact, your recovery will progress more quickly and your implant will last longer if you incorporate activity into your daily routine. 

Under your doctor's guidance, you'll begin incorporating this activity shortly after surgery. Remaining immobile increases the risk of post-surgery complications. It can also lead to increased swelling, decreased mobility, and increased pain in your new joint.

Your doctor and your physical therapist will recommend gentle exercises to get your new joint moving. From there, your physical therapist will design a plan to improve your mobility, strength, and endurance gradually and safely.

Your last physical therapy session does not represent the end of your recovery or the end of your efforts to remain active. Rather, it represents the beginning.

With your doctor's guidance, you'll eventually be able to return to many of the activities you once loved. You can also take advantage of your increased mobility and decreased pain to experiment with new activities. You might even find a new favorite workout.

3. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Staying active will help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. However, nutrition is another important component of a healthy lifestyle. 

Fortunately, good nutrition—whether after surgery or at any other point in your life—is not complicated. Like an active lifestyle, good nutrition simply requires balance. 

Recovering from surgery and maintaining a healthy weight means prioritizing whole foods that contain valuable nutrients. Meanwhile, it means limiting your consumption of foods that are high in sugar and fat.

Following surgery, one of the most important nutrients your body needs is protein. Be sure to consume plenty of high-protein foods, including lean meats, fish, nuts, and seeds.

Meanwhile, limit processed foods, sweets, and fatty sauces that contribute little nutritional value. Because it can cause inflammation, it's also best to limit your consumption of red meat.

Finally, be mindful that your dietary needs will change as your recovery progresses. As you become increasingly active, your body will require additional calories for energy.

At all points of your recovery, you must balance the calories you consume with the energy you expend.

A Note for Overweight and Obese Knee Replacement Patients

If you're reading this and are overweight or obese, you might feel trapped in a seemingly vicious cycle.

Your excess weight has contributed to your knee pain. Losing weight could relieve some of that knee pain. It could also increase the likelihood of a successful knee replacement. Losing weight, though, is much easier with an active lifestyle. Unfortunately, knee pain can impede an active lifestyle.

So what can you do?

First, it's important to talk to your doctor. He or she can help you craft a weight loss plan that combines diet and exercise. Under your doctor's guidance, you can learn to make healthier nutrition choices. Your doctor can also recommend exercises that are safe and won't aggravate your knee pain.

Ideally, you'll be able to implement these recommendations before surgery and continue them after.

Second, whether before or after your surgery, you can use a knee brace to support your joint when you are active. These braces use compression to increase stability and reduce fatigue in the surrounding muscles. They also concentrate heat on the painful area to improve mobility.

In these ways, knee supports can help you break the vicious cycle linking pain, decreased activity levels, and weight gain.

4. Support Your Joints 

In fact, regardless of weight, knee braces and sleeves are a valuable part of any patient's recovery. As you return to increasingly strenuous activities, a knee brace can protect your new joint. By applying heat, a knee brace can also improve circulation, flooding the joint with oxygen and nutrient-rich blood.

Some knee braces and sleeves use your body's natural heat. Others incorporate thermal pads. Still others combine heat with vibration or massage for additional relaxation. 

5. Rest

While we're on the subject of relaxation, we should underscore its importance. A healthy lifestyle balances activity and rest. 

Even the "safest" activities can damage your knee implant if you overdo them. Your new joint can handle walking or hiking, for example. However, it can't handle walking miles and miles without proper training and adequate rest.

Giving your body adequate rest requires listening to your body. If you're feeling tired or experience pain, take a break. Maybe even take a day off. 

Also incorporate heat and ice into your periods of rest. In addition to the benefits above, heated massagers are ideal for promoting relaxation. Meanwhile, ice speeds recovery by reducing inflammation and swelling. Consider applying a knee ice compression wrap for 10-20 minutes after working out.

What Are the Signs that Your Knee Replacement Is Wearing Out?

Even with the best care, you may eventually notice that your implant is wearing out. Signs that your implant is nearing the end of its life include:

  • New and persistent pain
  • Persistent swelling
  • Limited mobility and increased stiffness
  • Instability

If you notice these signs, contact your doctor. He or she can evaluate your knee and suggest a path forward.

Bracing Yourself for Knee Replacement Surgery: Know What to Expect and How to Improve Your New Joint's Longevity

Choosing to undergo knee replacement surgery involves weighing the costs and benefits. Among the long-term costs is the potential to need a second knee replacement in the future.

There is no one answer to the question, "How long does a knee replacement last?" However, there are some steps you can take to increase the longevity of your new knee. 

These include staying active and maintaining a healthy weight. They also include supporting your knee and letting it rest.

Whether you're preparing for surgery or hoping to avoid it, a knee brace can provide that support. Shop PowerRebound's collection today.

1 comment

  • Tom Mcclain

    Is golfing ok after bilateral knee replacement. And it sounds like wearing knee supports is a good idea.

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