Roughly one million total knee replacement procedures are performed each year in the U.S.

With sensors attached to her body, Lena Thompson cautiously climbs up one step, then a second and finally a third. Once at the top of a raised platform, she walks forward, stops, turns and descends the stairs—and repeats the exercise several times. Researchers from the William States Lee College of Engineering at UNC Charlotte observe Thompson, who recently underwent knee replacement surgery, as she performs the exercises as part of a project examining the effectiveness of knee implants.

Last year, Thompson, a retired daycare worker, visited the Biomechanics and Motion Analysis Lab directed by Nigel Zheng, a professor of mechanical engineering and engineering science who joined UNC Charlotte in 2008. She completed a number of exercises prior to surgery and had returned for post-surgery analysis.

As is the case with many patients, pain was the determining factor for Thompson as she considered knee replacement. “Excruciating” is how she described the agony she’d endured for the better part of a decade.

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Originally published May 13, 2019.