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Knee replacement surgery looks a lot different these days

An older couple uses hiking poles on a boardwalk over a marsh.

Total knee replacement has evolved. New techniques and pain relief can make it easier than ever.

Knee surgery has changed recently. If you're considering a knee replacement, be prepared—this isn't your mother's knee surgery.

Advances in techniques, materials and medications mean that total knee replacement can be more precise, less invasive and less painful than in the past. Surgeries are safer than ever, with shorter recovery times. And according to the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons, knee replacements can now last between 15 and 20 years.

Here are a few recent improvements that you should know about:

Newer technology. Modern computers can help today's surgeons customize the positioning of your implant down to the millimeter. And with robotic-assisted surgery, surgeons can use a three-dimensional computer model of your joint and specialized robotic technology to carry out their surgical plan precisely.

Minimally invasive techniques. Traditionally, knee replacement has required a long vertical incision. New techniques use a much smaller incision. They also require less cutting of tendons and ligaments. Minimally invasive knee replacement isn't right for everyone, but it can reduce pain and speed up recovery time.

More implant options. One knee implant does not fit all. Now, you and your surgeon have a choice of hardware designed to meet your specific needs. For instance, gender-specific implants take into account differences between the knees of men and women. There are choices of different materials, such as ceramic, metal and plastic. And different designs aim to better mimic how a real knee joint moves.

More effective pain relief. Pain control has also evolved significantly. Regional and spinal nerve blocks can make a big difference. And early post-surgery rehab can help decrease stiffness and pain as well. Everyone has a different experience, but your care team has more options than ever to keep your pain manageable.

Same-day surgery. Total knee replacement used to mean several nights in the hospital. Now, some people are candidates for outpatient knee replacement. Thanks to new procedures, pain medications and rehab, you might be able to have a total knee replacement and go home the same day. Talk to your doctor to see if this is an option for you.

Is knee replacement right for you?

Opting for a knee replacement is a big decision. Our joint replacement decision tool can help you make the choice that's right for you.

Reviewed 11/17/2021

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