What is knee arthrodesis?

Knee arthrodesis is a fusion surgery where your doctor connects your thigh bone to your shin bone. This surgery was performed a lot more often in the past. With the development of artificial knee joints, arthrodesis is often a last option if an artificial joint can't work.

Benefits of knee arthrodesis

By fusing the upper and lower leg bones together, doctors form a stable and immobile joint. While you lose some flexibility and motion in your leg(s), you also lose all of the pain that went along with the failing joint.

Another benefit of knee fusion surgery is that it's a permanent solution. There are no parts to wear out or become infected. With recovery and physical therapy, you can return to work and normal activities.

What to expect from knee arthrodesis

Knee arthrodesis is a major surgery that requires a hospital stay afterward. You arrive at the hospital where the medical team preps you for surgery. They walk you through the procedure so you know what to expect.

Doctors perform fusion surgery under general anesthesia. That means you're completely unconscious through the entire procedure. They make an incision in the skin to access your knee and leg bones.

Doctors cut off the ends of the thigh bone and shin bone. They also remove the ligaments, joint lining and other tissues. This encourages the two bones to fuse together during the healing process. Your doctor secures the two bones together using metal plates and screws. This compresses the bones together and gives the fusion stability.

After surgery, you may have considerable pain and swelling. You need to keep your legs elevated to reduce swelling and maintain circulation. Your leg is in a cast to protect it during the first part of recovery. You might need to remain in the hospital for up to two weeks following the procedure.

You must wear the cast for 12 weeks after your surgery. Your doctor may give you crutches to help you move around. You can't put weight on your knee(s) for a minimum of 12 weeks. After the doctor removes the cast, you have a brace for support. During this time, you participate in physical therapy. Full recovery can take up to six months.

Common conditions requiring knee arthrodesis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that causes considerable pain and inflammation in the knee joint. The breakdown of the cartilage means there's no cushion between the bones. It causes pain with every bend and step.

Other conditions requiring arthrodesis are:

  • Trauma
  • Chronic infection
  • Failed knee replacement
  • The joint becoming non-functional

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