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Knee replacement is a procedure in which the surgeon removes damaged or diseased parts of the patient's knee joint and replaces them with new artificial parts. The operation itself is called knee arthroplasty. Arthroplasty comes from two Greek words, arthros or joint and plassein, "to form or shape." The artificial joint itself is called a prosthesis. Most knee prostheses have four components or parts, and are made of a combination of metal and plastic, or metal and ceramic in some newer models.
Knee arthroplasty has two primary purposes: pain relief and improved functioning of the knee joint. Because of the importance of the knee to a person's ability to stand upright, improved joint functioning includes greater stability in the knee.
Total knee replacement, or TKR, is considered major surgery. Therefore, it is usually not considered a treatment option until the patient's pain cannot be managed any longer by more conservative treatment. Alternatives to surgery are described below.
Pain in the knee may be either a sudden or gradual development, depending on the cause of the pain. Knee pain resulting from osteoarthritis and other degenerative disorders may develop gradually over a period of years. On the other hand, pain resulting from an athletic injury or other traumatic damage to the knee, or from such conditions as infectious arthritis or gout, may come on suddenly. Because the structure of the knee is complex and many different disorders or conditions can cause knee pain, the cause of the pain must be diagnosed before joint replacement surgery can be discussed as an option.
Restoration of joint function and stability is the other major purpose of knee replacement surgery. It is helpful to have a brief outline of the major structures in the knee joint in order to understand the types of disorders and injuries that can make joint replacement necessary as well as to understand the operation itself.
The knee is the largest joint in the human body, as well as one of the most vulnerable. Unlike the hip joint, which is partly protected by the bony structures of the pelvis, the knee joint is not shielded by any other parts of the skeleton. In addition, the knee joint must bear the weight of the upper body as well as the stresses and shocks carried upward through the feet when a person walks or runs. Moreover, the knee is essentially a hinge joint, designed to move primarily backwards and forwards; it is not a ball-and-socket joint like the hip, which can swivel and rotate in a variety of directions. Many knee injuries result from stresses caused by twisting or turning movements, particularly when the foot remains in one position while the upper body changes direction rapidly, as in basketball, tennis, or skiing.
The normal knee joint consists of a bone, the patella or kneecap, and a set of tendons, ligaments, and cartilage disks that connect the femur, or thighbone, to the lower leg. There are two bones in the lower leg, the tibia, which is sometimes called the shinbone; and the fibula, a smaller bone on the outside of the lower leg. There are two collateral ligaments on the outside of the knee joint that connect the femur to the tibia and fibula respectively. These ligaments help to control the stresses of side-to-side movements on the knee. The patella—a triangular bone at the front of the knee—is attached by tendons to the quadriceps muscles of the thigh. This tendon allows a person to straighten the knee. Two additional tendons inside the knee stretch between the femur and the tibia to prevent the tibia from moving out of alignment with the femur. Cartilage, which is a whitish elastic tissue that allows bones to glide smoothly against each other, covers the ends of the femur, tibia, and fibula as well as the surfaces of the patella. In addition to the cartilage that covers the bones, the knee joint also contains two crescent-shaped disks of cartilage known as menisci (singular, meniscus), which lie between the lower end of the femur and the upper end of the tibia and act as shock absorbers or cushions. The entire joint is surrounded by a thick layer of protective tissue known as the joint capsule.
Disorders and conditions that may lead to knee replacement surgery include:
There are several factors that increase a person's risk of eventually requiring knee replacement surgery.
hold the parts of the knee joint in alignment, while jumping increases the shock on the knee joint and the risk of twisting or tearing the knee joint when the person lands. Squatting can increase the forces on the knee joint as much as eight times body weight.
Author Info: Rebecca Frey Ph.D., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Surgery, 2004
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