Signs you need knee surgery

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, over 100,000 knee replacements are now carried out each year in the UK1. It is a major, yet effective operation and over time becomes the only way to eradicate pain and improve quality of life. If you’re suffering from severe knee pain, our article will help spot the signs you may need knee replacement surgery.

Physio examining a person's knee

Private knee replacement surgery at a glance

  • Waiting time: 4-6 weeks
  • Cost: £11,799
  • Ways to pay: self-pay or insured
  • Hospital stay: same-day recovery or in-patient
  • Procedure time: 1-3 hours

Signs you need a knee replacement

How do you know when you need a knee replacement? The following are signs and symptoms to look out for and discuss with your GP:

1. Constant pain

One of the main signs a knee replacement is needed is severe and prolonged pain in the knee and the surrounding area. This pain can also be present elsewhere such as the hip or ankle, which impacts your daily life even when you are resting.

2. Swelling and inflammation

Swelling and inflammation of the knee and surrounding area which no longer responds to medication.

3. Stiffness in the knee and immobility

This can make everyday chores and activities difficult. Bending the knee may be painful for some patients.

4. Bowing of the leg

Another sign might be a bowing of the leg. This occurs in some patients who are trying to manage their discomfort by adjusting how they walk.

5. Anti-inflammatory drugs no longer provide relief from pain

Another sure sign of needing a knee replacement is when medication is no longer effective at helping to manager the discomfort. This is a sign the knee has deteriorated.

6. Difficulty carrying out everyday activities

When the pain and discomfort from your knee impacts on your ability to carry out daily activities such as climbing the stairs. This can also have negative consequences on mental wellbeing and quality of life.

7. Disrupted sleep

When the pain and discomfort becomes so severe it affects your ability to get a good night’s sleep, it may be time to consider having a knee replacement.

8. Changes to your knee’s appearance

One of the signs of needing a knee replacement is your knee appearing red and swollen. If your affected knee looks different to the other one, it may be time to speak to a consultant.

9. You have exhausted all other treatment options

If medication, physiotherapy and other conservative pain management methods are no longer effective, it may be a sign you need a knee replacement.

10. Your mental wellbeing is suffering

Not being able to carry out everyday chores and do the things you love can have a damaging effect on your mental wellbeing. If your quality of life is suffering due to persistent knee pain, it may be time to talk to a specialist.

Pain in your knee?

If you’re experiencing knee pain, try our knee suitability quiz. It will give you an idea of whether you’d benefit from booking a consultation with one of our knee specialists.

Reasons you may need knee surgery

Knee replacement surgery is an effective operation and it is important to heed the signs. Failure to do so could lead to a number of problems including:

  • weakened muscles and ligaments of the knee
  • deformity of the area outside the knee joint
  • limited mobility due to chronic pain and loss of function
  • continued degeneration of the knee joint
  • reduced success rate of any future knee surgery.

If you have experienced any of these symptoms and are worried, you should discuss them with your GP. Unless your symptoms are very severe and debilitating, your GP is likely to first recommend pain relief and/or physiotherapy before suggesting an operation, but if and when they agree that you need a knee replacement you can ask to be referred to us for your private knee surgery.

Is a knee replacement worth it?

If you’re suffering from the signs your knee needs to be replaced, it’s best to seek advice from your doctor. There are alternatives to knee replacement that your doctor may recommend.

Surgery risks

While knee replacement surgery is considered a safe procedure, there are some risks.

A very small number of patients have suffered from blood clots. If after surgery, you notice hot, reddened, hard or painful areas in your legs, contact your doctor.

In the weeks after surgery, some of the others risks include:

  • infection
  • excess scar tissue
  • allergic reaction
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis
  • nerve damage.

Surgery benefits

Improved mobility and stability can allow you to return to some of the activities you enjoyed before your injury. Treatment with Practice Plus Group offers the added advantage of day knee surgery.

The other big, long term advantage an artificial joint replacement can provide is simply being able to enjoy a better quality of life. Knee surgery can help reduce pain while increasing your ability to move about with more freedom. This is also likely to have a positive effect on your mental health and wellbeing.

Mel Baddick, knee replacement patient testimonial, Plymouth hospital

Mel Baddick, knee replacement patient tells her Wellsoon patient story at Plymouth hospital

1 1

When to seek treatment

A knee replacement may not necessarily be the right course of action for you. However, it’s important to seek specialist advice if:

  • your knee is swollen and inflamed
  • you struggle to climb stairs and do everyday chores
  • you struggle to sleep
  • pain medication is no longer effective
  • you’re experiencing persistent pain.

Sources and references

1 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

Gyorgy Lovasz consultant


This article was completed with the help of Gyorgy Lovasz, Consultant Orthopaedic surgeon at Practice Plus Group. Among his qualifications are Specialist of Trauma & Orthopaedics, Budapest, and he spent three years in the UAE as a consultant orthopaedic-trauma surgeon. Mr Lovasz has performed more than 4000 orthopaedic procedures in the UK. His main field of interest is lower limb arthroplasty. Over the last few years Practice Plus Group has grown its Marketing Team to include art workers, campaign and social media managers, content editors, and digital analysts. Together, they provide a responsive and comprehensive service, ensuring all content is on-brand and in-line with relevant medical guidelines.
View profile

Knee replacement signs and symptoms – FAQs

Not found the information you’re looking for? Our knee replacement signs and symptoms FAQs might be able to help!

What are the first signs of needing a knee replacement?

Initially, you’re likely to experience knee pain that affects your ability to participate in high impact activities like sport. Over time, patients experience further wear and tear to their knee that will eventually result in the need for surgery.

Can an X-ray show if I need a knee replacement?

No. X-rays can accurately diagnose knee osteoarthritis. However, they aren’t used as definitive proof a patient requires total knee replacement surgery.

Does your whole leg hurt when you need a knee replacement?

Generally not. Some patients may feel discomfort in their hip or ankle, but the good news is the pain is often localised to the knee. The bad news is that this pain can be severe enough to disrupt sleep and daily activities. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen are unlikely to work, and the pain is likely to be persistent until surgery.

What conditions require knee surgery?

As mentioned previously, one of the main reasons for needing knee surgery is osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. That being said, there are a number of other causes and risk factors such as:

– haemophilia
– gout
– disorders resulting in unusual bone growth
– death of bone in the knee joint following blood supply problems
– knee injury
– knee deformity and loss of cartilage.

How do I know if my knee pain is serious?

If you need knee replacement surgery, your knee pain is likely to be persistent. It will likely disrupt your sleep, your daily activities, and won’t respond to over-the-counter pain medications. In order to relieve pain, knee replacement surgery may be recommended by your doctor.