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Should I have total knee replacement surgery?

  • A total knee replacement should not be your first choice of treatment. It is major surgery, and complications may occur.

    Joint replacements do not last forever. On average, a new knee lasts 10 to 15 years depending on your age, activity level and bone quality.

    Before deciding on knee replacement, there are important questions you need to ask yourself, your doctor and your health care insurer.

    Questions to ask yourself

    Your body will tell you when it is time to have your knee replaced. If you answer "yes" to two or more of these questions, it's time to talk to your doctor about it.

    • Do I have daily pain?
    • Does my pain stop me from working or enjoying daily activities?
    • Do I avoid going outside my home with my friends because of the pain?
    • Does my pain interfere with activities such as driving, walking, and sleeping?
    • Do I feel like my world has become smaller because of my pain?

    Questions to ask your doctor

    You will need to work with an orthopedist to determine if a total knee replacement is right for you. This doctor will examine you and order an X-ray of your knee joint.

    The orthopedist will look for joint degeneration with bone rubbing on bone. He or she will ask you about the severity of your pain, and how much pain interferes with normal activities. The doctor will also look for stiffness and instability in your joint.

    Ask your doctor these questions:

    • Will losing weight reduce the stress on my knee joint?
    • Are there assistive devices I can use that will allow me to do my normal daily activities?
    • Are there prescription medicines that will allow me do my normal daily activities?
    • Are there exercises I can do to strengthen my knee?

    In the end, the decision is yours to make based on what your doctor recommends. You will know when the time is right. Your body will tell you.

    Questions to ask your health care insurer

    Health care benefits are constantly changing. They also differ from plan to plan and provider to provider. It is important to understand your health care benefits before your surgery.

    Call your insurance provider and find out exactly what is and is not covered under your plan.

    Ask your health care insurer these questions:

    • What is the normal hospital stay for total knee replacement surgery?
    • Does my hospital stay need to be pre-approved? If so, who should pre-approve my hospital stay?
    • How do I obtain pre-approval?If I have complications, will my insurer cover additional days in the hospital?
    • If I cannot return home following my hospital stay, will my stay in a skilled nursing facility or a swing bed be covered? What will I have to pay for?
    • If I need home care after my hospital stay, what home care services will be covered? What will I have to pay for?
  • Source: Allina Health Total Joint Program
    Reviewed by: Dawn Yetter, RN, BSN, certified orthopedic nurse, Unity Hospital Joint Replacement Center
    First published: 10/01/2000
    Last reviewed: 03/29/2007