A Knee for Knee Arthritis: Understanding Knee Replacement Surgery

By Dr. Bhushan Nariani in Institute For Bone, Joint Replacement, Orthopedics Spine & Sports Medicine

Apr 28 , 2023 | 5 min read


For most of us, knee replacement surgery used to be a fancy procedure for rich old people. Not anymore. Did you know total knee replacements have some of the highest success rates in medicine? When the knee joint is severely damaged by injury or arthritis, simple activities like walking or climbing stairs become difficult. There could be pain even while sitting or lying down. When medications don’t help, knee joint replacement surgery could be considered to provide relief from pain or to correct deformities of the leg. From the time arthritis knee replacement surgery was first performed in 1968, vast changes in surgical techniques and materials have improved the effectiveness of this procedure.

Can A Knee Replacement Cure Arthritis?

There is no permanent cure for knee arthritis currently, but a joint replacement can help manage most of the symptoms. Taking medicines as prescribed, regular reviews, and avoiding strenuous activity increases the life of the prosthesis. Post-surgery, many people can perform regular activities without help. Pain is the main reason for a person with arthritis to consider knee replacement surgery. An artificial knee is never as good as a natural one. It works at about 75% as efficiently as a normal knee. Most people are happy with knee replacement procedures. Post-surgical persistence of pain is one of the main reasons for dissatisfaction. The prosthetic knee cannot bend as far as the natural knee. An artificial joint also experiences wear and tear and may require replacement in the future.

Knee Arthritis, What Is It?

The knee is the largest and strongest joint in the human body. When there is inflammation, pain, swelling, and stiffness in one or both knees it is called knee arthritis.

Which Part Of The Knee Is Affected By Arthritis?

There can be cartilage loss between the thigh bone and the shinbone on the inner side, outer side, or under the kneecap. When all three areas are affected it is called tri-compartmental arthritis.

Different Types Of Knee Arthritis

The knee is made of the lower end of the thigh bone, the upper end of the shinbone, and the kneecap. The ends are covered with cartilage to protect the bones and act as a cushion. Two rubbery cartilage pieces act as shock absorbers between the thigh and shin bones. Synovial fluid released from a thin lining called synovial membrane helps to lubricate the cartilage and reduce friction.

3 Major Types Of Arthritis Can Affect The Knee:

  1. Osteoarthritis Of The Knee

    It is a degenerative form of arthritis and refers to the wear and tear of the knee. The cartilage of the joint becomes frayed and rough and fails to act as the cushion between the bones. Soon, the bones rub against one another, and painful bone spurs are formed.
  2. Rheumatoid Arthritis Of The Knee

    It is a chronic condition that can affect the knee joint. The effect is usually bilateral or symmetrical. Pain and stiffness arise when the synovial membrane covering the knee joint starts to swell. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition.
  3. Post-Traumatic Knee Arthritis

    This form of arthritis develops as a result of injury to the knee. The injury could be a broken bone that damages the joint surface. It could also be instability and accelerated wear and tear due to a meniscus tear or any ligament injury.

Arthritis Treatment

Currently, there is no cure for arthritis, but treatment can help relieve pain and any disability. Treatment usually starts with a few lifestyle adjustments:
  • Losing weight if needed
  • Exercising just enough to remain active, like swimming and cycling.
  • Avoiding or reducing activities like climbing stairs. These could aggravate the pain.
Supervised physical therapy can help to strengthen the leg muscles. These exercises are customized for individual needs and lifestyles. Devices such as canes or knee braces can be used to assist while walking.


  • NSAIDs like ibuprofen or simple pain relievers like paracetamol are the mainstay of pain relief and are quite effective in osteoarthritis. Most people tolerate oral NSAIDs well, but there are a few side effects when they are taken for prolonged periods.
  • Special NSAIDs like celecoxib are more helpful for pain and improving function. These tablets should not be used along with regular NSAIDs.
  • Topical NSAIDs (creams and gels) can also be used when oral drugs are not tolerated well.
  • Corticosteroid injections may be given to provide relief from pain and inflammation. They are used judiciously because they could cause more damage than good in the long run.
  • Newer medicines like disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs like methotrexate and hydroxychloroquine are prescribed commonly.

Surgery For Knee Arthritis

When non-surgical treatment provides no relief, there are a few knee surgeries that could be tried:
  • Arthroscopy - It is used usually in cases of a torn meniscus.
  • Cartilage restoration- Healthy cartilage is removed from another part of the knee to close a hole in the articular cartilage. It is recommended for young persons who have only limited damage.
  • Synovectomy and osteotomy are other surgical procedures that can improve the function of the arthritic knee.
  • Knee replacement or knee arthroplasty could be total, or it could be a partial procedure when the damage is limited to one compartment of the knee. The entire surgery of knee replacement is a resurfacing procedure in which the surfaces of the bones are replaced.
There Are 4 Steps Involved In The Surgery:
  • Bone Preparation - Damaged cartilage is removed along with a little underlying bone.
  • Placing The Metal Implants - Metal components are cemented or pressed into the bone to recreate the joint surface.
  • Resurfacing The Patella - The kneecap is cut and resurfaced, if necessary.
  • Inserting A Spacer - A spacer between the metal components creates a smooth gliding surface.
It is important to continue physical therapy to regain strength and restore motion. A knee brace or crutches are required till satisfactory recovery is attained.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q.1) When Does A Knee Need Surgery For Arthritis?

Surgery is required when the knee joint is worn out or damaged enough to reduce mobility and in cases where there is pain even during rest. Osteoarthritis is the most common indication for knee surgery.

Q.2) How Do They Remove Arthritis From A Knee?

A cut is made to expose the knee cap which is then moved aside to gain access to the joint. Damaged ends of the thigh bone and shin bone are cut away and shaped to fit the prosthesis. A curved metal piece is placed at the end of the thigh bone and a flat metal plate is placed at the end of the shin bone. A plastic spacer is placed between these 2 pieces to reduce friction.

Q.3) What Is Stage 4 Arthritis In The Knee?

Level 4 knee arthritis is the surgical stage. The person cannot tolerate or manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis and is a suitable candidate for surgery.

Q.4) Is Arthritis In The Knee Serious?

Arthritis in the knee is a serious, debilitating condition that causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in the knee joint. There is no cure for it, but treatment can provide relief from symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease.