ACL Surgery vs Total Knee Replacement Surgery

Millions of Americans have knee pain, and most times, it resolves with a little TLC. Sometimes, though, knee surgery is required. Both total knee replacement and ACL reconstruction surgery can be used to repair serious knee damage that causes severe pain. Here’s how the two surgeries compare.

Total knee replacement surgery

Total knee replacement surgery replaces a damaged knee joint with artificial joint components. These components are made from state-of-the-art materials using advanced technology and materials for durability and strength. The artificial joint components work together, just like your natural joint parts.

What happens in total knee replacement surgery?

There are two main components to an artificial knee joint: an upper part that replaces the end of the femur (thigh bone) and a lower portion that replaces the end of the tibia (shin bone). During the surgery, Dr. Van Thiel makes a large incision so he can access the entire joint. Next, he removes the damaged portions of the bones and attaches the artificial components using special techniques.

Most total knee replacement procedures take about two hours. Afterward, you’ll go to a recovery area for a few hours before moving to a hospital room for a couple of days. Before you’re discharged, you’ll meet with a physical therapist who will show you how to gently exercise your knee. You’ll continue with therapy after you go home.

What is recovery like?

Physical therapy will begin soon after your surgery, but it will be about three to six weeks before you can resume most of your daily activities. Until then, you’ll need someone to drive you to and from your doctor appointments, and you’ll also need help with housework. You’ll need to avoid squatting, climbing stairs, and carrying any heavy loads during the initial stages of recovery. Dr. Van Thiel and your therapist will work with you to increase your activity as your knee heals.

Although your new joint will function much like your natural joint, you’ll need to avoid high-impact activities to keep your joint healthy. That includes activities that involve jumping, contact with other players, or rapid pivoting. Low-impact activities, like walking, biking, and swimming , are excellent choices for staying active.

Who is a candidate for total knee replacement surgery?

Total knee replacement surgery can be a good choice for people with severe joint damage due to osteoarthritis where other options — like medication and therapy — haven’t provided relief. Surgery typically is not performed until after nonsurgical methods have been attempted.

How painful is a total knee replacement?

Like any surgery, total knee replacement surgery will certainly involve some discomfort afterward. You’ll receive pain medication for the early recovery period to help reduce discomfort. Physical therapy will also help. Let Dr. Van Thiel and your therapist know what level of pain you’re experiencing so your recovery can be modified to keep you comfortable.

ACL surgery

ACL surgery replaces the anterior cruciate ligament, one of four major ligaments that help your knee bend and move. ACL injuries usually occur when you pivot your knee very quickly, like a rapid change of direction during a sport. Less commonly, they’re torn by trauma, like a severe fall.

What happens in ACL surgery?

Most ACL surgery uses a minimally-invasive approach, with very small incisions and special surgical instruments. During the procedure, Dr. Van Thiel removes the torn ligament and replaces it with a tendon graft. The graft comes from another location in your knee or from a donor. Dr. Van Thiel makes small holes in your thigh bone and shin bone, then anchors the tendon graft with screws or another type of surgical anchor. Like knee replacement surgery, ACL reconstruction takes about two hours.

What is recovery like?

ACL surgery is almost always performed on an outpatient basis, which means you’ll go home the same day. You’ll need to use crutches and, initially, a splint or a brace to keep your knee stable. You’ll be given a prescription for pain medicine, along with instructions on how often to move your knee to prevent stiffness and other problems.

Physical therapy will benign soon after your surgery and continue throughout your recovery. Complete recovery takes about nine months, but it can be a year or more before you can return to more strenuous sports.

Who is a candidate for ACL surgery?

ACL repairs are typically performed in patients who are about 50 years of age or younger. However, there are other factors that will be considered, as well, including:

    • Your activity level
    • The extent of your injury
    • The overall health of your knee
    • How well your knee is functioning
    • Your medical history
    • Your post-op goals and lifestyle

Not all ACL tears require surgery. For instance, if the ACL tear is mild and it’s not affecting your normal activities, a course of physical therapy may be prescribed, instead.

The right treatment for your knee pain

Total knee replacement surgery and ACL surgery are just two options for treating acute and chronic knee pain. As a top orthopedic specialist in the greater Chicago area, Dr. Van Thiel is skilled in an array of state-of-the-art knee treatments aimed at helping his Algonquin and Rockford patients feel their best. To learn what’s causing your knee pain and how to relieve it, contact OrthoIllinois and request an appointment with Dr. Van Thiel today.


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Patient Stories

Life changing patient stories

Read about Jack a multi-sport athlete, who suffered from a multi-ligament tear in his knee. Read about Abigail who fell and tore her Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). Life changing stories of patients healed by Dr. Geoffrey Van Thiel.

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