Risks of Knee Replacement Surgery


  • As with any major surgery there are potential risks involved. The decision to proceed with the surgery is made because the advantages of surgery outweigh the potential disadvantages
  • It is important that you are informed of these risks before the surgery takes place

Complications can be medical (general) or local complications specific to the knee.
Medical complications include those of the anesthetic and your general well being. Almost any medical condition can occur so this list is not complete. Complications include

    • Allergic reactions to medications
    • Blood loss requiring transfusion with its low risk of disease transmission
    • Heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, pneumonia, bladder infections
    • Complications from nerve blocks such as infection or nerve damage

Local complications

    • Stiffness in the knee
      Ideally your knee should bend beyond 100 degrees but on occasion the knee may not bend as well as expected. Sometimes manipulations are required; this means going to theatre and under anesthetic the knee is bent for you
    • Wound irritation or breakdown
      The operation will always cut some skin nerves so you will inevitably have some numbness around the wound. This does not affect the function of your joint. You can also get some aching around the scar. Vitamin E cream and massaging can help reduce this.Occasionally you can get reactions to the sutures or a wound breakdown which may require antibiotics or rarely further surgery
    • Infection
      Infection can occur with any operation. In the knee this can be superficial or deep. Infection rates are approximately 1%. If it occurs, it can be treated with antibiotics but may require further surgery. Very rarely your knee prosthesis may need to be removed to eradicate the infection
    • Blood clots (Deep Venous Thrombosis)
      These can form in the calf muscles and can travel to the lung (Pulmonary embolism). These can occasionally be serious and even life threatening. If you get calf pain or shortness of breath at any stage you should notify your surgeon
    • Damage to nerves or blood vessels
      Also rare but can lead to weakness and loss of sensation in part of the leg. Damage to blood vessels may require further surgery if bleeding is ongoing
    • Wear
      The plastic liner eventually wears out over time, usually 10 to 15 years, and may need to be changed
    • Cosmetic Appearance
      The knee may look different than it was because it is put into the correct alignment to allow proper function
    • Dislocation
      An extremely rare condition where the ends of the knee joint lose contact with each other or the plastic insert can lose contact with the tibia (shinbone) or the femur (thigh bone)
    • Patella problems
      Patella (knee cap) can dislocate. That is, it moves out of place and it can break or loosen
    • Ligament injuries
      There are a number of ligaments surrounding the knee. These ligaments can be torn during surgery or break or stretch out any time afterwards. Surgery may be required to correct this problem
    • Fractures or breaks in the bone can occur during surgery or afterwards if you fall. To fix these you may require surgery
  • Serious medical problems can lead to ongoing health concerns, prolonged hospitalization or rarely death

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