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Knee Replacement Surgery Complications

Knee Replacement Surgery Complications

Getting a knee replacement surgery is a big decision in itself. Therefore, before deciding to go for one, it is important to understand the pros and cons for the same. Although knee replacement surgery can make your life much easier, there are also certain complications that you must be aware of...
Shalu Bhatti
Last Updated: Feb 8, 2018
Considering the fact that you are getting a surgery done, which means that your knee will be replaced by artificial parts and prosthesis, there definitely lies a chance of developing some complication. Like all surgeries, even a knee replacement surgery can lead to some complications varying from major to minor. There can be some infections or injuries in the muscles or tissues around the knee, however, the chances for the same are very rare.
As a matter of fact, there are many different tests and examinations done in order to determine if a person is eligible to go for a knee replacement surgery. These tests include the X-rays, blood tests, electrocardiogram, urine test, and a complete medical check up. All these are done so that the condition of the knee-joint is analyzed properly. If the condition is so bad that non-surgical treatment like physical exercises and medications are of no help, then and only then, a surgery is conducted.
There are different types of knee replacement surgeries that can be done based on the condition of the knee. Your doctor might either suggest you to go for a total knee replacement surgery or a partial knee replacement surgery. However, most of the people, especially the elderly, go for a total knee replacement surgery. The complications for the same are discussed as this article proceeds further.
Complications from a Knee Replacement Surgery
As mentioned earlier, no surgical procedure is 100% risk-free, I mean even a simple blood test has a potential to cause an infection. Be it any type of surgery, it involves interrupting the body's natural mechanism. Speaking specifically about knee replacement surgery, it involves removal of the damaged tissues and ligaments of the knee-joint and replacing them with artificial prosthesis. Inserting a metal or a plastic part into the body definitely incurs some degree of risk to develop an infection, doesn't it? However, the surgeons and doctors are well aware of these risks and complications, and therefore they take optimum measures to minimize these complications. Although the chances for developing these complications post-surgery are extremely rare, it is best to take a note of them. Mentioned below are some of the most common complications. Have a look...
Formation of Blood Clots
One of the most common and minor complication that may arise after the commencement of the surgery is the formation of blood clots in the legs. Also known as deep vein thrombosis, this condition can very rarely become severe when the blood clots end up in the lungs, also known as pulmonary embolism. However, hardly one in several hundred people can incur this complication. Which is why doctors use blood thinners which can minimize the risk of blood clots. Various exercises, compressive calf pumps, and supportive stockings are used in order to prevent blood clots. Therefore, even though there are rare chances of this complication, there are also ways through which this can be controlled.
Nerve Damage during Surgery
Though the chances are extremely rare, but still, there is a possibility of a nerve damage. The nerve that is prone to get damaged (rarely) is the peroneal nerve which is responsible for lifting the foot towards the face. The nerve damage takes about 6-12 months to recover completely. You might experience symptoms like numbness around the operated area. However, it can be treated and healed within a few months. Therefore, it is strictly advisable to get a surgery done by a trusted surgeon who has good experience in performing knee replacement surgeries.
Fractures
This complication depends upon the person's age and the condition of the bones. Although proper care is given while surgery, there are minor chances that the surgery may lead to periprosthetic fractures, especially, if the person on whom the surgery is being done is an elderly person. There are chances that these fractures can occur either during the surgery or after the surgery. Usually a serious trauma or an injury after the surgery can lead to fractures.
Allergy from the Implants
Though occasionally, but yes, one among the noted complications resulting from a knee replacement surgery, is the allergy that results from the metal implants in the knee. There are some people who may be allergic to metal, but because it is a very rare scenario, mostly this point is not taken into consideration while preparing for the surgery. Therefore, if you have even the slightest of doubts regarding metal allergy, then you must ask your doctor to get some tests done.
Infection
When the surgery is done, an incision is made on the knee. There are high chances that a bacterium floating in the air can enter the body and cause an infection. To ensure safety, surgeons use many techniques to minimize the chances of infection. This includes operating in a 'laminar flow operating room', wherein special filters are present to clean the air from harmful bacteria. Not only this, the team of surgeons wear a sterile suit and mask to prevent the chances further. The patient is also given antibiotics during the surgery so that there are no complications in terms of an infection. Statistics reveal that the chances of developing infection after performing a knee replacement surgery for the first time is as low as 0.5%. However, the chances are more in case of a joint replacement.
Loss of Motion
Another feared complication is the inability to recover the complete range of motion post surgery. The normal range of motion is up to 135 degrees after a total knee replacement surgery has been done. There are chances that some amount of stiffness may appear in the joints after surgery. Some people may also develop scar tissues. However, it depends upon the implants that have been used during the surgery as there as some specialized implants that offer a high range of motion. On the other hand, there are many exercises that are advised once the surgery has been commenced which helps the person improve the range of motion.
Instability in the Joint
This complication may occur very rarely. Approximately only 1-6% of total knee replacement surgeries may lead to this complication. It also depends on how well the surgery has been performed. In some cases, the knee cap becomes unstable which leads to a very painful dislocation. Not only this, the instability may also lead to loosening of the artificial prosthesis from their place due to additional pressure and stress in the knee joints. Doctors might have to operate again to do the necessary corrections.
Patellar Problems and Complications
Knee replacement surgery can also lead to many patellar complications. One of such complications include improper replacement of the patella (knee cap). If this is the case, then many a time, the patient may feel that the knee cap is popping, or rather jumping out of the leg when bended. This may also lead to pain and instability. Although this complication seldom occurs, a surgery needs to be done again to fix the problem.
Other Complications
Apart from the aforementioned knee surgery complications, there are some additional minor complications that may occur. These are mentioned as follows.
  • Slow wound healing may occur if you have diabetes or similar health conditions that may slower the healing process.
  • Excessive use of blood thinners can lead to too much of bleeding.
  • Numbness around the operated area may occur for sometime.
  • Blood transfusions during the surgery may also lead to certain infections, though this happens very rarely.
  • Allergy in the skin due to the dressing, tape or latex can occur.
  • Constant pain in the knee must be addressed to the doctor if it persists longer than expected.
  • Reaction due to anesthesia.
So, these were some of the rare, yet expected knee surgery complications that may occur. With more and more advanced approach to the surgeries commenced these days, there are minimal chances for you to incur any of these complications. However, your doctor would be the best person to educate and clear all your doubts with reference to this. If you are getting yourself operated through a trusted and experienced surgeon, then these complications aren't something you should worry about. Nevertheless, it is always good to know all sides of the coin, isn't it?