Health Information and Tools > Health A-Z >  When You’re Having a Knee Replacement: Topic Overview

Main Content

When You’re Having a Knee Replacement

About Knee Replacement Surgery: Overview

​​​​​​​​Why do I need a knee replacement?

Most people have a knee replacement because the cartilage (or cushioning) between the bones in their knee has worn away. This cause​s the bones to rub against each other, which then causes pain and stiffness in the knee.

The pain might be keeping you awake at night. It may be causing you to cut back or stop doing your normal, everyday activities. You may have tried other treatments like medicine and exercise, but the pain and stiffness didn’t get better or got worse.

A knee replacement means that the damaged knee joint is taken out and replaced with parts made of metal, plastic, or ceramic. The pain should stop or be much less. Your knee should have more movement with the new parts.

What types of knee replacement surgery are there?

There are 3 types of knee replacement surgery. Your surgeon will tell you which type you need.

  • Total knee replacement: The entire knee joint is taken out and replaced with new parts.
  • Partial knee replacement: Only the most diseased or damaged part of the knee is taken out and replaced with new parts.
  • Knee revision: The parts used to replace the knee have become damaged or loose and have to be taken out and replaced with new ones.

There are many types of knee replacement parts. The type you need depends on the condition of your knee, your age, weight, and the activities you like to do. Your surgeon will speak with you about the type that is best for you.

Front View


Side View


Does the surgery have risks?

While knee replacements are usually safe, there are some risks. Your surgeon and healthcare team will talk to you about the risks. Some of the risks of surgery and what’s done to decrease them are listed below:

  • Infection: Germs can enter your body from anywhere (e.g., teeth, skin, or throat) and cause an infection. Antibiotics are given before and after surgery to prevent infection. Make sure to tell your surgeon or Case Manager if you have or think you have an infection.​
  • Blood clots: A blood clot happens when blood collects into a clump. You’ll be given a blood thinner to help prevent a blood clot. Another way to prevent a blood clot is to get up and move around as soon as possible after surgery. A blood clot can be serious if it moves to the lungs. Make sure you tell your surgeon or Case Manager if you’ve ever had a blood clot.
  • Heart attack, breathing or lung problems, stroke, allergic reaction to medicine, or death: These are risks with any surgery. You and your healthcare team will work together to lower your risk.
  • A break in the bone around your new joint: You may need to put less weight on the leg or have to have another surgery.
  • Nerve damage, bleeding, or injury to a blood vessel: You may notice a loss in feeling or movement after surgery. Be sure to tell your healthcare team about any changes.
  • Knee stiffness: It’s important to do your exercises to prevent this. You may need another surgery to improve the bend in your knee if it stays stiff.
  • The new knee parts become loose: Your new knee joint may loosen over time. It’s important to go to all your follow-up clinic visits after surgery. Make sure you tell your doctor if you have any new pain in your knee. You may need surgery again if your knee joint becomes too loose.

Current as of: May 6, 2019

Author: Bone and Joint Health Strategic Clinical Network, Alberta Health Services