Health Library

Categories > Muscles and Joints > Knee health

Good news for ‘bad’ knees

Got “bad” knees? Here’s good news. Surgical advances can offer quick and comprehensive fixes to get you up and moving.

With only two knees to work for you, it’s easy to understand how they can become worn out from a lifetime of repetitive bending, lifting and pushing.

This stress causes the knee cartilage—the smooth cushioning tissue that serves as a shock absorber between your bones—to wear thin and become rough and bumpy. The severe form of this condition is known as osteoarthritis.

A common problem

Many people begin to feel the effects of thinning cartilage when they are in their 40s. If you suffer from this condition, you most likely have had to cope every now and then with stiff knees that ache when you walk, bend, sit or stand.

Unfortunately, about 20 percent of sufferers require surgery to repair the problem. You may need surgery if you broke or injured your knee, if you tore a ligament or cartilage around your knee or if you have severe osteoarthritis that affects your quality of life.

Thanks to advances in the field, surgery ranges from a relatively minor procedure to repair damaged cartilage to total knee replacement.

One-day surgery

Arthroscopic surgery, the “simpler” procedure, involves cutting, shaving or removing damaged bone and cartilage from the knee. The surgeon makes small slits in the knee and then inserts a lighted optic tube called an arthroscope. This device includes a tiny camera that sends pictures to a screen in the operating room. By watching the screen, the surgeon can operate on the knee with very thin instruments, eliminating the need for large incisions or a long recuperation.

Arthroscopic surgery is less invasive, requiring about an hour to perform. You normally can go home the same day.

Long-term relief

Total knee replacement is a more complicated procedure designed to leave the surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments intact while replacing damaged bones with an artificial knee joint made of plastic and metal. A hospital stay is required, along with physical therapy afterward to speed the healing process.

Today’s knee replacements can last up to 20 years. They generally are not as effective as the real thing, but they are popular alternatives to chronic knee pain and disability.

TLC for knees

If you have problem knees, you may feel better without surgery by trying the following:

  • Lose weight to lighten the load.
  • Stay agile and limber.
  • Engage in knee-friendly activities such as swimming.
  • Try straight leg raises to strengthen the quadricep muscles that support your knees.
  • Wear knee protectors when playing sports.
  • Try an over-the-counter pain reliever to ease minor discomfort.
  • Consider supplements such as glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate for added protection.