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Is it time for knee replacement surgery?

Close-up of hands holding a knee.

Surgery is no small deal. These signs can help you know if it's time.

If you've been battling knee pain for a while now, you might wonder if knee replacement surgery could offer you some lasting relief.

Each year, roughly 790,000 total knee replacements are performed in the U.S., according to the American College of Rheumatology. Advances in surgical techniques and implant materials have made joint replacement one of the most reliable and long-lasting surgical procedures.

But this surgery is not for everyone—and the timing matters. Before making this important decision, here are some signs you should or shouldn't consider knee surgery right now.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, you might consider putting off knee surgery if:

  • Your pain is manageable for now. You can tolerate it, you have more good days than bad and it doesn't interrupt your sleep.
  • Your pain level hasn't increased over the last year.
  • Your pain isn't interfering with the activities of your daily life.
  • You haven't explored all the nonsurgical options. Surgery is usually the last resort after less invasive treatments haven't worked.
  • You have health issues that may affect the success of your surgery.
  • You don't have time right now for the recovery process. Knee surgery recovery can take up to six weeks or more, and you will probably need to stay home for two to three weeks after surgery.
  • You don't have the support at home you will need. It's likely that you'll need significant help while you're recovering.
  • You are not committed to your recovery plan. After surgery you can expect several weeks of exercise and rehabilitation.

On the other hand, it may be time to consider knee surgery if:

  • Tests show that your joint damage is severe.
  • The pain significantly affects your quality of life. It's hard to get around, and you have more bad days than good.
  • The pain has been getting steadily worse over time or remained at a bad level for months.
  • You skip activities you used to enjoy because pain gets in the way.
  • Side effects from pain medicines are putting your health at risk.
  • You've tried other, less invasive treatments without lasting success.
  • You are in good health, and you've made lifestyle changes to prepare you for surgery, like quitting smoking or losing weight, if needed.
  • You have realistic expectations. Surgery will help your knee function better with less pain, but you still may need to limit your participation in certain activities.
  • You understand the recovery process and are prepared to see it through.
  • You have a strong support system in place to help you recover after surgery.
  • You have the ability to take time off while you heal.

If you're not sure what's best for you, start by meeting with your doctor. He or she can help you weigh all your options.

Reviewed 9/7/2023

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