Understanding Al Roker’s Knee Revision Surgery & What You Can Expect
NBC TODAY meteorologist Al Roker has returned to his morning gig following knee replacement revision surgery, because, believe it or not, national TV celebrities are humans who age, too.
Roker shared pictures and videos throughout his recovery process. NBC reported he returned to TODAY just under a month from his surgery. That seemed like a quick recovery, so we asked the expert surgeons at Excelsior Orthopaedics what the average person should expect.
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But let’s start with a basic question: What IS knee revision surgery?
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), revision knee replacement surgery is the second surgery someone has after their first knee replacement fails or has problems. In this surgery, AAOS describes the procedure as “your doctor removes some or all of the parts of the original prosthesis and replaces them with new ones.”
Why might a knee replacement fail?
“The average lifespan of a knee replacement is about 20 years,” says Dr. Daniel Vargo, who specializes in knee replacements and revision surgery.
That means depending on when you had your knee replacement, there’s a chance you outlive its viability. In the case of Roker, who is 68 years old, he had his first knee replacement in his mid-40s.
There are other reasons a knee replacement might fail, too. Vargo lists infection, instability, and patellar tracking issues (the way your knee moves) as reasons someone might need a revision.
How long does recovery from knee revision surgery take?
Roker returned to work after about four weeks. His job requires standing and walking.
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“That’s a pretty above-average recovery timeline,” says Dr. Vargo. “Especially with revision surgery, folks are starting to resume normal activity close to six weeks. Depending on the physical nature of their jobs, they might not return to work for three months.”
In general, recovery for a revision is a bit longer than recovery for a first-time knee replacement.
“Often times, depending on why it was revised, the knee is not functioning well to begin with, so after the problem is corrected, more rehab is needed to strengthen that area of the body,” says Dr. Vargo.
Dr. Nicholas Violante, a surgeon specializing in knee and hip replacement at Excelsior, says other variables include what exactly must be replaced.
“If the knee is a simple plastic liner exchange, then it’s typically not a long recovery. Around six weeks. The quad muscle gets cut through a second time, so it takes some time to heal and get strength restored,” explains Dr. Violante. “If the knee has metal components that need to be replaced ad if something is loose from the bone, then it is a much more involved surgery. The more bone loss, the larger the prosthesis and typically a slower recovery, around 10-12 weeks.”
What is my surgeon doing when I’m on the operating table?
“You identify the problem, you go in, you have to remove the older parts, clean our scar tissue, then you reconstruct the knee in a way that rectifies the original problem,” says Dr. Vargo.
That could mean replacing a small part or the whole thing, which is why recovery time varies person-to-person.
While it may seem obvious, taking care of your body and yourself are the best ways to keep your knees healthy, and if you’ve already had a knee replacement, to extend its lifespan.
“Healthy patients with lower BMI typically have better life expectancy of their total knee, and also typical do better with revisions and overall lower complications,” says Dr. Violante.