Today, more than 4.5 million Americans live with a total knee replacement (TKR), according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. In fact, the number of surgeries has doubled over the last decade, with the largest increase occurring in younger patients. It’s safe to say that the procedure—once within the realm of science fiction—has now moved completely into the mainstream.

A TKR, from consideration to recovery, is a complex and serious matter. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. It’s important to conduct the necessary research and understand the facts about the procedure. However, it’s also wise to hear the stories of others—people who have lived with knee problems and undergone a TKR—to fully comprehend what’s involved and what real world issues enter the picture. Discussion boards and blogs focusing on knee replacement are excellent resources for real world stories. You can learn how others take care of their artificial knee, how they manage the recovery process, and what advice they offer. 

The stories of those who have received knee replacements are, in most cases, nothing short of inspiring. That isn’t surprising if you consider that complication rates are very low and 9 out of 10 patients says they are highly satisfied. One woman who could no longer engage in any significant physical activity waited until the pain was unbearable and then went ahead with the surgery. Six weeks after surgery, she was up and about again. “I am pain free. It has made a profound difference in my life,” she says.

Another woman, a teacher, who had previously walked with a limp because she couldn’t bend one leg properly, now walks in a more natural motion and is able to interact with students and move about more freely. “I feel like I am whole again after surgery… I wanted to have a normal life and now I feel as though I do. I’m thrilled!”

A few years ago, a police officer with 25 years of experience found that he couldn’t move well and went home every day with pain, swelling, and an inability to do any activities around the house. After a TKR and about 10 weeks of rehab—during which time he shed 50 pounds—he was able to return to work and experience almost no pain. In addition, “I work out on a treadmill and I am able to walk the dog and do normal household activities. I feel like I am living again.”

Those who have had their new knee for several years also report highly favorable results. Among the comments: “Doing really well. I almost never think about my knees.” (7 years). “I am able to walk, hike, play golf and do all sorts of other activities that were impossible before the knee replacement. I’m not as mobile as someone with good knees but I have absolutely no complaints.” At 10 years, the same patient was still going strong.

These types of comments are common. In addition, online boards and blogs are a good place to post questions and ask for advice from others. Many people who have been through a knee replacement have sage advice and are happy to share. Keep in mind, however, that people interpret and perceive events differently. You should recognize that there’s a high level of subjectivity to what people post, and consider each comment as only a small piece of the overall picture.

For example, one man who had a TKR reports complications and then an infection following the initial surgery. He was forced to have revision surgery and it took about six months to get back on his feet. Three years later, the knee still doesn’t function as he had hoped but he is able to move around. Although he had hoped for more he says that he is at least able to move around in less pain than before the procedure.

Studies have found that 90 percent of knee replacement patients experience improved mobility and quality of life. What’s more, the results typically last for many years. Many patients also report that the surgery they avoided for years—for fear of it being horrendous and debilitating—turned out to be entirely manageable. Many also regret not having the surgery performed sooner.

Although a TKR will not return your legs to a pre-arthritic state—they will never have the same strength and most likely will not regain the same flexibility as a healthy natural knee—it will likely allow you to engage in many activities that were not possible before the surgery. Those who have received a new knee say that the physical benefits ripple into their mental state as well. They’re generally happier and more satisfied with life.