Improve your quality of life, reduce your pain

If you are living with chronic knee pain that isn’t getting better with physical therapy and medications, you may need a knee replacement. Getting knee replacement surgery can improve your quality of life.

How does knee replacement help?

Your knees take a lot of impact from everyday activities. This stress wears down the shock-absorbing cushion that covers each part of your knee.

Knee replacement repairs the rough and bumpy surfaces of a damaged knee. This restores movement and reduces or eliminates your pain.

Who benefits from knee replacement?

Your care team examines your knee and talks with you about your symptoms. Your doctor may recommend total or partial knee replacement surgery if you:

  • Have severe knee pain that limits your everyday activities

  • Have moderate to severe knee pain while resting, day or night

  • Are no longer as mobile as you want to be

  • Long-lasting knee inflammation and swelling that doesn’t get better with rest or medications. 

  • Have severe osteoarthritis

Overview of knee replacement

Types of knee replacement

Depending on the condition of your knee, our orthopedic surgeons may recommend different knee replacement options.  The type of knee replacement surgery recommended for you is based on our main goal of helping relieve your pain so you can get back to a more active lifestyle.

If only a portion of the joint is damaged by arthritis, a partial knee replacement can be an excellent option. The surgeon will make a small incision to get to the damaged compartments of the knee. The areas are replaced with an artificial implant, called a prosthetic. The rest of your knee is preserved. Partial knee replacements are most often done with smaller incisions, so there is less recovery time.

Total knee replacement surgery may be recommended if you have severe arthritis or a severe knee injury and have chronic, constant pain, difficulty walking or climbing stairs and pain while resting. During total knee replacement surgery, damaged cartilage is removed, and the end of the thigh bone and the top of the lower leg bone are resurfaced with metal where the two bones join together. A plastic spacer is placed between the metal areas, so you have a smooth gliding surface. This helps you have less pain and improves your ability to walk.

During robotic total knee replacement, surgeons use computed tomography (CT) scans to build a virtual model of your knee. With that model as guide, the surgeon then uses the robotic arm to embed the components of the new knee precisely.

A bilateral total knee replacement is an option for people whose cartilage has worn away in both knees. For healthy, active and younger people, with good support at home, a bilateral knee replacement may be a good option.

Some patients who have knee replacement surgery can go home the same day of the surgery. This is usually recommended for you if you are in overall good health and have the right support system at home. Same day surgery, also called outpatient surgery, allows you to have the surgery and recover in the comfort of your own home the same day.

Some people may need a second surgery – revision total knee replacement, because of infection, mechanical wear, loosening, prosthetic breakage or instability. In this procedure, surgeons remove some or all the parts of the original knee replacement and replaces them with new ones. Revision surgery is different than a first total knee replacement. It is a longer, more complex procedure.

Treatment process

Preparing for knee replacement surgery

The UW Health joint replacement surgeons and orthopedic team have developed a care plan to guide you through your preparation, hospital stay and recovery from surgery.

Your care team and support person

Our goal is to provide you with the care and support needed to get through your joint replacement and back to the things you love to do. A Total Joints Nurse Coordinator is available to ensure a smooth transition from surgery to recovery. We also encourage you to choose a family member or friend who can act as a personal support person or "coach" as you go through the joint replacement process.

TotalCare for surgery patients

Patients who are scheduled for surgery in Madison have access to this free online educational system that provides you and anyone you designate with information before and after surgery. TotalCare includes checklists and reminders to guide you through the joint replacement process, educational materials, informative videos and patient self-reports that provide your orthopedic team with feedback.

What happened during knee replacement surgery? 

Before scheduling your surgery, your knee replacement team determines if you need a partial or total knee replacement. If both of your knees need to be replaced, your care team decides if it’s best to repair both knees at the same time or separately.

During surgery, your doctor:

  • Removes the damaged parts of the knee

  • Covers the ends of the shin and thigh bones with plastic and metal parts

  • Covers the underside of the kneecap with a plastic part

  • Your new knee parts move together smoothly. 

What to expect after surgery

You may spend a night in the hospital or go home the same day as your surgery. Afterward, you can expect to spend at least six weeks in recovery. During this time, you will:

Complete daily physical therapy exercises - Your active participation in a rehabilitation program is a major factor in the success of your surgery. You will need to perform exercises to restore movement in the knee joint and strengthen the surrounding muscles.

  • Return to driving after three weeks

  • Start to perform your normal daily activities on your own

  • It may take six months to a year before you fully recover.


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Patient stories

Hear how knee replacement helped our patients

Susan Cowles received a knee replacement at UW Health

Everything good to me happens at UW.

Susan Cowles
Knee replacement patient
A couple walking their dog

Getting you back to the activities you enjoy

Joint pain, a broken bone or other conditions that affect how your body moves can sideline you from the activities you enjoy. Our orthopedic specialists can treat your orthopedic needs.

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