Editor's note: This feature was originally published on December 10, 2001 and is being republished due to user interest.
While any operation carries some risk and complications, including shock, hemorrhage, infection and negative reaction to anesthesia, death rarely results from a post-operative infection. In fact, the normal mortality rate for knee surgery is 2 per 1,000.
So, how can you improve your chance of a successful surgery? Start by gaining a good understanding of the procedure. Doing so can help you recover more quickly and have fewer problems. Preparing mentally and physically for surgery are also important steps toward post-operative success.
You may feel anxious, even apprehensive, before your operation. Having your surgeon explain your preoperative care, the surgery itself and postoperative care can relieve much of your anxiety. Find an experienced surgeon with whom you feel comfortable, and utilize him or her along with other resources, such as the Internet and medical journals, to learn about your procedure. Together, you will gain a clear understanding of the common goals and expectations. Talk with your doctor about:
- The anesthesia that will be used. Anesthetic risks may include breathing difficulties, blood loss and allergic reactions.
- Discuss any medications you are taking. Some medications are not compatible with anesthetics, and others could increase bleeding or cause other problems.
- The number of surgeries he has performed and the complications and side effects he has encountered.
- Where your operation will be performed. Some procedures have higher success rates based upon the medical facility in which you receive treatment.
- Any antibiotics you should take prior to surgery.
- The proper use of pain relievers before and after your surgery. Controlling postoperative pain can help you recover faster and improve the results of your operation.
- What you can and cannot do after surgery.
Once you have a good understanding of your surgery, take time to reflect on the following:
Take Care of Yourself
- Seek a second opinion if you have any doubts.
- Schedule surgery when you can afford time off from work and when it will be least disruptive to your family.
- Weigh the risks versus the benefits and reconcile them in your mind.
- Feel encouraged, and have a positive attitude. Talk with some of your surgeon's other patients.
- Their successes can ease your mind.
- Feeling tense and anxious as the surgery approaches is normal.
- Depression often strikes after surgery. Prepare yourself by consulting with your doctor and reading up on depression and strategies for combating it.
- View the recovery period as time to rest and recuperate. The time you invest rehabilitating is necessary for better health.
Try to be in a state of optimal health before surgery because other medical conditions may increase your risk of potential complications. Any pre-existing infections should be cleared up before surgery. If they cannot, your surgery should be postponed. Accurate records of your vital signs will help your doctor diagnose and correct conditions that may cause problems during surgery. Consider specific diets, protein and vitamin supplements, and other measures to improve your health. Your doctor may recommend that you:
- Lose weight before surgery. However, you should not diet during the month before your surgery. Excess weight causes strain on already-damaged muscles, cartilage and joints. Losing weight is one of the best ways to improve the condition of your knee and optimize surgical results.
- Stop smoking two weeks prior to surgery to improve your recovery and reduce your anesthetic risk, which may increase if you have heart disease or a chronic lung condition. Anesthesia slows both your heartbeat and breathing rates.
- Have any tooth or gum problems treated before surgery to reduce the risk of oral infection spreading throughout the body.
- Take multi-vitamins and eat well-balanced meals to promote the healing of your wound.
- Seek additional medical evaluation if you have other medical conditions.
Most importantly, never lose sight of your goals. The surgeon does his work in the operating room but much of your psychological and physical preparation, and rehabilitation will be up to you. Make a commitment to do your part to ensure a positive outcome by actively participating in the process and by being an informed patient. Working as a team, you and your physician can jointly assume responsibility for your care and toward the success of your surgery.
Read more about Preparing for Knee Surgery in the Knee1 Surgical Suite.
University of Maryland Medicine
The Knee Clinic
Minnesota Department of Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention