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CALGARY — Patients suffering osteoarthritis who undergo knee replacement surgery are now able to go home much earlier thanks to a new technique being used by a Calgary surgeon.

Dr. Rajrishi Sharma became the first orthopaedic surgeon in Western Canada to implement the method earlier this year and so far has used it on 20 patients at the Peter Lougheed Centre. Alberta Health Services says 17 patients went home the same day and the others within 24 hours.

Prior to this technique, patients would typically stat in hospital for three to five days. 

“It’s actually amazing to see how well patients do immediately after surgery. It’s almost a night and day difference for patients, they’re able to get up and walk around, bend the knee, much more than the patients without the protocol-based, same day knee replacement,” said Sharma. 

According to AHS,the new protocol involves alternative pain management and pain medications before, during and after surgery, and new surgical techniques to mitigate soft tissue pain. These changes provide pain relief for up to 48 hours, enabling patients to move their legs immediately after surgery with minimal discomfort.

Sharma said less pain after recovery is attributed to a cumulative effect of all the changes. He calls the procedure a game changer because of how medication is administered. Sharma said patients are given non-narcotic-based pain control before and after. 

“If we’re able to minimize narcotics, you have patients feeling a lot more normal and if they feel normal they’re able to get up, mobilize with less pain and pass physiotherapy requirements in order to go home,” he said.

 Kenn Thompson had knee replacement surgery using the new protocol in March. 

 “Three weeks after the surgery I was walking with no crutches, no cane,” he said.

“About six weeks after the surgery, I was walking my dog, back on my bike, swimming, doing workouts.”

Thompson said after 10 weeks he returned to work, which requires him to walk 12,000 to 15,000 steps a day.  

Approximately 6,000 knee replacement surgeries are performed in Alberta every year.

The AHS Bone and Joint Health Strategic Clinical Network monitors joint replacement quality indicators such as length of stay in hospital at the 12 centres that perform this surgery in the province. In the past decade, through ongoing improvements, the median length of stay for knee replacement in the Calgary area has been reduced from 4.2 days to 2.3 days. 

Dr. Sharma is also teaching the new protocol to other orthopedic surgeons in Alberta and across Canada. 

Dr. Sharma said not all patients are eligible for a same-day knee replacement, it is typically for those with end-stage knee arthritis. 

The new protocol to knee replacement was developed in the U.S. and is being performed in other Canadian cities including Toronto, Montreal and Halifax.