Pain after surgery
Gregory H. Sirounian, M.D., is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Banner Estrella Medical Center.
Question: I had knee replacement surgery. So why is my knee still hurting?
Answer: Pain after knee replacement surgery—whether early after the operation or years later—can be from a number of different causes and not necessarily related to the operation itself. However, pain also can be the first signal of a problem in the joint, so your first step should be to visit your orthopedic surgeon to discuss the nature of the pain.
It is normal for patients to experience pain and stiffness after surgery, especially during the first few months. Even years later, with an artificial knee that is functioning well, some patients will experience periodic aching and soreness. This pain is related to the muscles and tendons around the joints and often responds to simple treatments, like exercises, anti-inflammatory medications or injections. Sometimes, knee pain can come from other sources, like spine, nerve or circulation conditions. Your orthopedic surgeon will tell you if you need to see a different specialist.
Persistent knee pain that doesn’t improve within a few months of surgery, or new onset of unexpected pain years later, could indicate a significant problem within the joint. This could include implant wear, loosening within the joint, instability and infection. Fortunately, these problems are rare, but when they occur, they need to be addressed, sometimes with a second surgery.
Current knee implants last an average of 12 to 15 years in most people, depending on factors such as age, weight, activity level, type of implant used and quality of surgical technique. Like human bones, artificial joints can wear out or loosen within the body over time. This process could take several years to develop before a patient would experience symptoms. Often, these problems can be detected on plain x-rays, long before the effects are actually felt.
As the population ages, the number of people with knee arthritis who need joint replacement surgery continues to grow. Today’s patients are younger, healthier and more active, creating advances in orthopedic surgery that have brought improved materials and surgical techniques to keep pace. Like anything man-made, though, joint replacements cannot be expected to last forever. Thus, it is important for joint replacement patients to visit with an orthopedic surgeon regularly, to monitor progress after surgery and address problems as they occur—even prevent them.