For all the advances in knee replacement surgery, there’s one element that’s still stuck in the dark ages. We explore the unfortunate effects of continuing to refer to knee resurfacing as ‘knee replacement’.

By the time a patient visits their knee consultant, they will in all likelihood have exhausted the conservative treatment options available. GPs are excellent at managing patients along the path of weight loss, activity management, anti-inflammatories, pain killers, physiotherapy and steroid injections.

Yet like an army in retreat, every intervention is a falling back – no cure, merely an opportunity to regroup and keep things ticking over until the pain of bone against bone once again becomes unbearable.

It’s against this backdrop that Yorkshire Knee Clinic’s knee surgeons take particular issue with ‘knee replacement’, a phrase so ubiquitous that it has become ingrained in the public’s imagination despite being a completely inaccurate description of the procedure.

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A fair balance

If you’re suffering with chronic knee pain, the decision to explore operative ways of reducing or removing the pain is a balance between the pain you’re experiencing now and the potential risk and reward of the operation.

Yet making that balanced evaluation becomes much tougher when the phrase ‘knee replacement’ intuitively conjures up images of the leg being ‘chopped’ above and below the knee, for the insertion of a new joint.


The knee replacement misnomer

In reality, knee replacement isn’t a replacement at all. It is a removal of the worn out surface of the bone above and below the knee, and the replacing of those end surfaces with thin cobalt/chrome plates on the femur, and with titanium below the knee. Between them sits a polyethylene spacer which acts as a very hard wearing artificial cartilage.

In our experience, when you explain the reality of the procedure to a patient – and particularly when they see imagery of what a knee replacement actually is – they’re enormously reassured.


Reality check

That’s not to say the decision to have partial or total knee resurfacing is in any way a frivolous one. Like any operation, knee resurfacing carries some risks and it is entirely correct to delay surgery until more conservative measures have been exhausted, and the pain substantially interferes with the quality of life. But our experience suggests that the decision to opt for knee resurfacing is one delayed still further by the connotations of the name incorrectly associated with the procedure.

When lengthy delay can actively reduce the long term effectiveness of knee resurfacing, we would argue that to continue using a term that causes confusion and anxiety is irresponsible.

And yet…

Outside of medical circles, few people would be able to explain knee resurfacing. Whilst they may be wildly off the mark with the detail, everybody has some grasp of the purpose, if not the process, of knee replacement.

Trying to change public understanding isn’t a medical issue – it’s a marketing one, a PR challenge akin to trying to stop everyone saying ‘Hoover’ rather than ‘vacuum cleaner’, or ‘Bubble Wrap’ rather than ‘inflated cushioning’.

We may not be able to change everyone’s perception, but we can change the minds of those considering knee surgery. That’s why Yorkshire Knee Clinic’s knee surgeons will continue to take every opportunity to raise understanding of knee resurfacing, and tackle the misnomer that is knee replacement.


If you are experiencing knee pain, talk to Yorkshire Knee Clinic now.

    >  Discover more about knee replacements
    >  Read more about our Specialist Orthopaedic Surgeons
    >  Read more on patient information & FAQs

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