Joint replacements are some of the most common and successful procedures in America. There are approximately 700,000 knee replacement procedures performed each year — usually on patients with arthritis in one or both knees. That number is expected to increase as the Baby Boomer generation ages.
Despite the commonality of the surgery, it’s still an invasive surgery for your body. That means you should learn as much as you can about the process, and consider the advantages and risks carefully before deciding whether to have the procedure done.
Knee replacement surgery involves replacing parts of the knee joint with artificial materials; usually a combination of wear-resistant, high-grade plastic and metal alloys such as cobalt-chromium and titanium. A successful surgery restores the hinge movement of the joint, alleviates pain, and helps the patient regain mobility.
Is knee replacement surgery right for you? Read on and find out.
Is Surgery Your Best Solution?
Surgery should only be considered after all other alternatives have been exhausted. There are several nonoperative treatments you should discuss with your doctor, before considering a knee replacement.
- Physical therapy: This involves strengthening the muscles around the knee, in order to decrease pain and increase function.
- Weight loss: Lowering your Body Mass Index (BMI) can dramatically reduce the stress on your knee joints. Losing just one pound of overall body weight can remove about three pounds of stress from your knee.
- Steroid injections: These are usually administered every three months to reduce pain. Steroids can delay the need for surgery by several years.
There are many other alternative treatments to an arthritic knee — ask your doctor to explain all of your options before discussing surgery.
Your doctor may recommend a partial or total knee replacement surgery if your pain or lack of knee function continue, even after you’ve tried every alternative treatment. You may also identify a need for surgery if you find increasing difficulty completing day-to-day activities, such as walking up and down stairs; or, if the instability in your knee has led to falls.
Finding an Orthopedic Surgeon
Once you and your doctor have determined together that knee replacement surgery is your best option, it’s time to find an orthopedic surgeon. This person will play an integral role in the lead-up to your surgery — and the surgery itself, of course — and should be someone with whom you can be comfortable and honest.
Rather than flipping through the Yellow Pages or Googling orthopedic surgeons in your city, try first asking for recommendations. Your doctor and other medical professionals should be able to provide a list of names. Since it’s such a common procedure, you may have friends and family members who are happy to recommend the surgeon who did their operations. Whoever you ask, make sure they explain why they’d recommend this professional for you.
Knee replacements are pricey operations. The average total knee replacement in the United States costs $49,500; a partial knee replacement comes in between 10% to 20% less. With a price tag like that, your choice of surgeon should be made with your insurance company in mind. Different surgeons will be covered under different insurance plans, and this factor will seriously impact how much you have to pay out-of-pocket for your procedure.
Don’t pick your surgeon based on recommendations alone — interview a few of the top candidates in person, to see who seems like the best fit for your needs.
Knee surgery requires a hefty time commitment; for not just time spent in the hospital, but the time you’ll spend recovering afterwards. While recovery times vary, expect to resume your normal lifestyle activities after about six weeks. Swelling and pain may continue into the third month, and it can take some patients up to a year for the swelling to fully subside.
Rehabilitation can begin almost immediately after knee replacement surgery. You’ll likely be able to use an assistive device to stand and walk within the first 24 hours of surgery — this is key to strengthening your muscles. By day two, a physical therapist may encourage you to climb a few stairs. Along with daily exercises, you’ll resume more and more of your normal activities each day. Patients are generally ready for discharge when they can:
- Bend their knee well and regularly
- Walk at least 25 feet
- Properly use crutches
- Dress and bathe on their own
If you’ve been limited in these activities for months (or years), you should very quickly notice the difference a successful knee replacement makes in your life!