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Knee Surgery

Overview of knee surgery

Knee surgery repairs a problem with one of the structures in your knee. The main parts of the knee joint include bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. There are several different types of knee surgeries ranging from minimally invasive procedures to total joint replacements. If you are experiencing knee pain that is getting in the way of your everyday life, talk to your doctor to see if knee surgery is right for you.

Dignity Health offers a wide array of knee surgery options. Find a Doctor to schedule a consultation and learn more.

Why it's necessary

Knee surgery may be necessary for a variety of reasons. For chronic conditions, such as arthritis and sports injuries, knee surgery may be a good option to help you live pain-free. Your doctor may recommend knee surgery to treat knee pain or disability. An orthopedic surgeon can repair torn ligaments, tendons, cartilage, remove loose bone, and reconstruct your knee after major trauma.

Surgery may be the right decision for you if:

  • Knee pain and stiffness interfere with your daily activities
  • Knee pain is present even at rest
  • Your knee is deformed
  • Your knee is weak, unstable, and gives way when you use it
  • X-rays show severe joint damage or loss of cartilage and bone
  • Other treatments, including anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and joint injections, haven’t worked

Before surgery, your doctor will conduct imaging tests such as x-rays and MRIs, to understand your condition. For mild to moderate injuries, a non-surgical, conservative approach, including physical therapy or joint injections, is usually the first choice for treatment. Still, if those do not work or the injury is severe, your doctor will recommend surgery.

Common conditions treated with knee surgery

Knee surgery can be used to treat a wide variety of knee problems, such as:

  • Torn meniscus
  • Torn ligaments and tendons
  • Damaged articular cartilage
  • Patella problems
  • Infection
  • Bone fragments

Surgeons can also perform total joint replacements due to arthritis or injury.


Knee surgeries vary in terms of invasiveness and benefits. Some are better for certain conditions than others. Common types of knee surgery include:

  • Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgery for a variety of knee problems and injuries. It involves small incisions, a tiny camera, and specialized instruments to work in these small incisions. Arthroscopy is best to fix damaged cartilage and ligaments in active people younger than 40.
  • Knee replacement includes partial knee replacement and total knee replacement. In this procedure, your damaged joint is replaced with an artificial implant that mimics the natural joint. This replacement can wear out after 15-20 years, but implant technology is rapidly improving.
  • Knee revision surgery is used to replace a previously implanted artificial knee. Revision surgeries are more complex than standard replacements because of the alterations made to the joint during the initial surgery.
  • Joint resurfacing is used to replace part of the knee joint. Usually, just the inside or outside part of the knee is replaced. This is best for older patients who only have arthritis in one knee and are less active. It’s a much more complicated surgery, is challenging to perform, and is not suited for slender patients or those with osteoporosis.
  • Osteotomy involves cutting and removing bone or using a bone wedge to shift the weight from a damaged area to an undamaged area. This surgery is extremely complicated and specialized and is best suited for patients in their 30s or younger who would otherwise be recommended for a total joint replacement.


As with any surgery, knee surgery comes with risks. The risks vary in severity based on your age, your health, and what condition is being treated. They may include:

  • Blood clots in the leg vein or lungs
  • Stroke
  • Infection
  • Heart attack
  • Nerve damage
  • Failure of the new joint or soft tissue

Especially with joint replacements, high-impact activities or excessive weight will increase the risk of joint failure.


Orthopedic surgeons perform knee surgery in a Dignity Health hospital or surgery center. The details of your knee surgery, such as the size of the incision and how long it will take, depend on the specific procedure.

Arthroscopic surgery generally takes the least amount of time and uses small incisions. Other types of knee surgery may take longer and involve larger incisions. The type of anesthesia you receive will also vary. In many cases, you will have general anesthesia to put you to sleep for the surgery. You may also have a nerve block to numb the area around your knee.

Your care team will provide you with instructions regarding food and medications before your surgery. Generally, you will not be allowed to eat after midnight on the day of your operation and will likely be advised to stop taking certain medications. Because you will be using crutches or a walker after surgery, ensure that your house is set up so you will easily be able to get around with these new tools. You will need a ride to and from the hospital as well.

Some knee surgeries are outpatient, but others will require a one or two-day hospital stay. Even though it may be painful or uncomfortable, it is essential to move your foot and ankle around to increase blood flow and prevent swelling and clots.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.