Ask the Experts: Will surgery relieve my knee pain?

By Kristy Bleizeffer May 5, 2016

Many people with arthritis may dream about returning to a period of their lives before the disease caused debilitating joint pain and trouble moving. 

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A study published in October 2015 in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests total knee replacement can relieve pain, essentially returning people with arthritis to an earlier stage of their disease. Below, James Shaffer, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Advantage Orthopedics and Neurosurgery, answers common questions about total knee replacement.

What is the most effective way of treating knee pain from arthritis?

While the treatment is not new, the study has confirmed what I already believed. Total knee replacement surgery is more effective than non­surgical treatment for the vast majority of patients with knee arthritis. It is clearly the best amongst currently available treatments. 

Can I be active after knee replacement?

While you will be slowed down for a short time after surgery, I do not give my patients any permanent restrictions after knee replacement surgery. In fact I recently took a ski lesson from an instructor who had had his knee replaced only about six months earlier! While this is not necessarily typical, expect to be active. If you currently can perform an activity or if your arthritis has recently begun to limit an activity, plan to get back to it after the surgery. This often includes, hiking, biking, tennis, golf, dancing, hunting, fishing, skiing, gardening, as well as many other activities. 

Are there other options?

The best non­surgical treatments for knee osteoarthritis are weight loss, exercise, physical therapy, healthy eating, fish oil, tobacco cessation and prudent use of non­steroidal anti­inflammatories (NSAIDs). Injections may play a minor role, but are not a long-term fix. Bracing can be valuable for certain patients. Glucosamine and chondroitin are not useful. Narcotic pain medications should be avoided entirely. 

How can I avoid surgical complications?

If you are considering knee surgery, try to optimize your overall health now. This means healthy eating to increase protein stores, quitting all nicotine and tobacco use, obtaining a normal body weight (BMI), correcting anemia, optimizing your diabetic treatment, screening for and treating osteoporosis, and correcting any dental issues.

James Shaffer M.D.

James Shaffer, M.D. is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with 10 years of experience. He has special interests in joint replacement and other surgeries of the shoulder, hip and knee. Dr. Shaffer  is orthopedic medical director at Wyoming Medical Center and Casper Orthopedic Clerkship director for the University of Washington School of Medicine. He is the orthopedic director for the Frontiers in Wyoming Medicine Conference and has been invited to educate other physicians in orthopedic care. His interests include the treatment of fractures and osteoporosis, perioperative pain and surgical process improvement. 

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