About Total Knee Replacement

Knee replacement surgery offers a solution for patients that suffer from knee pain that is affecting their everyday lives. Replacing the damaged parts of the knee or the entire knee can increase mobility and function while decreasing pain. The specialists at the University of Utah Health's Orthopaedic Center can help you return to a more active lifestyle or a life that is knee-pain free.

Our services include the following:

  • Total knee replacement
  • Partial knee replacement (uni-compartmental knee arthroplasty)

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Frequently Asked Questions About Total Knee Replacement

What is total joint replacement/arthroplasty?

Total joint replacement is when a manufactured prosthesis made of titanium, chrome cobalt, and polyethylene is used to replace an arthritic hip, knee, and sometimes the ankle, shoulder, elbow or wrist.

Who needs a total joint replacement?

Someone who has moderate to severe arthritis, significant limits on normal daily activity and severe pain they can no longer live with.

How do I know if I need surgery?

If you have pain that is not managed by anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) or your pain limits your daily activities, you may want to consider surgery.

Why have a total joint?

A total joint replacement can help you return to more normal activities and relieve your pain (95 percent successful).

What does the surgery involve?

The surgery, called total knee arthroplasty (TKA), involves the removal of small slices of bone from the ends of the bone, which are then capped with metal components. Then a polyethylene (plastic) liner is locked in between the metal components.

Will I need a blood transfusion?

You may, but we no longer need you to donate your own blood in advance.

How long will I be in the hospital?

In general, for an uncomplicated total knee or hip, the hospital stay is about one to three days after surgery.

What therapy do I have to do?

Starting the afternoon after surgery you will have physical therapy and in the days after that you will have it twice a day. This includes exercises: learning to sit, stand, and walk with your new total joint. Patients usually take a few steps the first day, then walking around your room and so on. After you leave the hospital, you will have a list of the exercises you have learned to continue yourself at home. Many patients will receive physical therapy at home.

What are the major risks to the surgery?

The major risks include the following:

  • Blood clot: We reduce risk of this by using blood thinners (Enoxaparin, Aspirin, or Coumadin), TED hose (compressive stockings) and compression boots on your feet to increase circulation.
  • Infection: You are given IV antibiotics before and after surgery.
  • Nerve, blood vessel damage: We work close to important vessels and nerves, and take extreme care to not to injure these structures.
  • THA dislocation: You can avoid this by following total hip precautions.
  • Medical complications: Can occur with existing or new medical problems

What if I get an infection?

Infection if very rare, but a difficult complication. Read more about joint infection after replacement.

What are total hip precautions and how long do I have to follow them?

Avoid internal and external rotation of the operated hip—keep knees and toes straight ahead. Avoid flexing hip past ninety degrees (for six weeks). It’s best to follow precautions for life. Please no excessive stretching/yoga.

Your THA could dislocate anytime even 10–20 years after surgery. But this is less of a concern for hips with very large femoral heads. The larger the head, the less chance for dislocating.

What happens when I leave the hospital?

You will usually need 24-hour help for a week. If you don't have adequate help at home, you should consider a rehab facility or extended care facility. You can check with your insurance to see who is approved, but the final plans will be made with our case management team while you are in the hospital.

What do I do at home while recovering?

Recovery involves the following:

First four to six weeks: Do your physical therapy exercises; keep the wound clean: no ointments or lotion on the wound; wear your TED hose for those four weeks; take blood thinners (Coumadin managed by the anti-coagulation service); walk as tolerated with crutches/walker; transition to a single crutch/cane as tolerated.

Next six weeks: Continue exercises, walk, use a stationary bicycle; use a crutch/cane until walking without a limp; return to work part time or full time as tolerated (as early as four to six weeks from surgery); you may return to full activity when ready except for running/jumping activities; kneeling on a TKA may be difficult but won’t damage it.

The best lifelong activities at this point are walking, swimming and biking.

How long do I take narcotics?

Only as long as you need them, but usually about 5–14 days from the day of surgery; then Tylenol will usually handle the pain.

When can I drive?

Usually three to four weeks after surgery; (Make sure you have control of your leg, no spasms, off pain medication, and use caution.)

When do I see my surgeon after surgery?

Staples will be removed two weeks from surgery. You will also be seen six weeks after surgery, six months, one year, and two years for the rest of your life. X-rays will be obtained at six weeks and yearly (even if you live out of town we like to see copies).

Who do I call if I'm having problems after surgery?

The nurse/MA who works with your surgeon, and your post-operative instructions will give you a phone number to use. If you feel like it’s an emergency, please call the clinic immediately or the University of Utah Hospital operator to have the orthopedic resident on call paged:


If it is after 5 pm, go to your nearest emergency department.

How long do total joints last? Will I need another surgery?

Today, total joints last 15–20 years depending on the amount of activity (demand) and your general health. You may need another surgery depending on how old you are and how much wear and tear you put on your total joint.

What lifelong activities can I do or not do?

We advise patients to resume just about everything, especially walking, swimming, and bicycle riding. We discourage repetitive jumping and running, yoga, or excessive stretching.

Why do I have to have x-rays every two years?

Because when a total joint starts to wear out, we can often see changes on the X-ray before you feel symptoms. We can better determine the need and time for revision (another operation).

Why do total joints wear out?

The metal components can loosen over time, but often the cause of wear is from the bearing surface. Your immune system attacks the particles from the bearing surface, but also melts bone away. We are using a metal liner (metal-on-metal), ceramic-on-ceramic, and cross-linked polyethylene liners that wear less than what we had years ago.

Why should I take prophylactic antibiotics for the rest of my life?

Because total joints are made of metal and are at risk for infection when bacteria circulates through your bloodstream. If your joint becomes infected, it requires more than two additional surgeries. Therefore, take antibiotics with any bacterial infection as prescribed by your family physician.

We strongly recommend that you take antibiotics for all dental and invasive procedures for the rest of your life. (This is usually just four tablets one hour before the procedure. You will get more detailed information about which one to use following surgery.)

Jill A. Erickson, PA-C

Jill Erickson has worked with our Adult Reconstruction Surgeons since 1999, and with Christopher Peters, M.D. exclusively since 2003, with Joint Replacements as well as Hip Preservation procedures. She is an integral member of our University of Utah Center for Hip & Knee Reconstruction team and coordinates our research, surgical and clinical ou... Read More

Jeremy M. Gililland, MD

Patient Rating:


4.8 out of 5

Dr. Gililland specializes in adult reconstructive orthopedic surgery of the hip and knee. He performs routine and complex primary and revision joint replacement operations. Additionally, his focuses include partial knee replacement and direct anterior total hip arthroplasty. He considers himself very fortunate to have a profession that he is passio... Read More

Christopher E. Pelt, MD

Patient Rating:


4.7 out of 5

Dr. Pelt specializes in hip replacement and revision, and knee replacement and revision. Minimally invasive joint replacement, partial knee replacement (unicompartmental, patellofemoral), cruciate preserving knee replacement, and direct anterior hip replacement are all aspects of his practice. Dr. Pelt is a Tenured Associate Professor in the Depart... Read More


Adult Reconstruction, Direct Anterior Hip Replacement, Hip Dysplasia, Hip Instability, Hip Replacement, Hip Revision, Joint Infection, Joint Replacement, Knee Replacement, Knee Revision, Labral Tear, Minimally Invasive Joint Surgery, Orthopaedic Surgery, Oxford Partial Knee Replacement, Patello-Femoral Arthroplasty (PFA), Uni-Compartmental Knee Arthroplasty, Unicompartmental Knee Replacement


University Orthopaedic Center 801-587-7109

Christopher L. Peters, MD

Patient Rating:


4.7 out of 5

Dr. Chris Peters, Professor, specializes in adult reconstructive orthopaedic surgery of the hip and knee. He performs routine and complex joint replacements and bioregenerative hip preserving operations. One of his specialties includes the treatment of hip pain in young adults from acetabular dysplasia and/or femoro-acetabular impingement with pelv... Read More

University Orthopaedic Center 590 Wakara Way
Salt Lake City, UT 84108
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