What to Expect from Knee Replacement Surgery

The complication rate for knee surgery is quite low. Serious complications such as knee joint infection occur in fewer than 2% of patients. Major medical complications such as heart attack or stroke occur even less frequently.1

Some complication rates may increase due to chronic illness and it is always best to discuss all your concerns with your doctor before making the decision to have knee replacement surgery. In knee replacement surgery, whether total or partial, your surgeon restores function by replacing the damaged parts of your knee with metal and polyethylene implants.

Of the different types, the most common procedure is total knee replacement (TKR), when the end of the thighbone and the end of the shinbone are replaced completely. A partial knee replacement is done when arthritis affects only one side of the knee.

Explore differences between total and partial knee replacement »

During surgery, the surgeon begins with an incision, fully exposing the joint. Using special instruments, the damaged parts of the knee are removed and the surgeon shapes the damaged bone surfaces to fit to the artificial implants.

After the knee prostheses are inserted and tested, the new components are stabilized by the existing ligaments and muscles. When the proper fit and function of the implant has been achieved, the incision is closed with sutures or staples.

Learn more about knee implants »

Basic Steps of Knee Replacement Surgery

There are three or four basic steps done by your healthcare team in partial or total knee replacement:

  1. Prepare the bone—the damaged cartilage is removed from either (in partial knee) or both (in total knee) the femur and tibia
  2. Position the metal implants—over the area where the cartilage was removed
  3. Resurface the patella (your surgeon may forego this part)
  4. Insert a spacer—this spacer offers a smooth glide for the metal implants


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)