10 Questions to Ask if You’re Thinking About Joint Replacement

knee with ice packYour knees ache. It’s hard to climb the stairs or exercise. The pain in your hip seems to be getting worse. If your doctor says you’re a candidate for joint surgery, you probably have many questions that will determine your decision. Joint replacement surgery is a big decision, one that impacts both you and your caregivers. Your doctor can answer some, but others are more personal. Ask yourself these 10 questions to see if you are ready.

Can I live with the pain I’m experiencing now?

Consider whether the pain is affecting your daily life, mood or relationships. Think about whether you’re having more bad days than good days, and whether the pain interrupts your sleep, or if side effects from pain medicines are putting your health at risk.

Have my pain and stiffness gotten increasingly worse over the past year?

You feel pain with movement and at rest. It’s getting harder to climb stairs, get into cars or move around the house. On a scale of one to 10, your pain level has steadily moved past six and has stayed at the higher levels for months. X-rays show that you have severe joint damage.

Have I given up on activities I enjoy because of my pain?

You’ve stopped playing tennis or shopping with friends. Social plans get cancelled at the last minute due to pain. You haven’t been to church for many Sundays. Most weekends you’re at home.

Have I explored all the treatment options available?

Before you decide to have surgery, make sure you have exhausted other therapies. You should talk to your doctor about which ones may be most helpful for you. These include topical and oral medicines, injections, natural or complementary remedies, exercise, physical or occupational therapy, and assistive devices.

How will surgery improve my condition?

Talk with your doctor to find out what level of improvement you may expect from joint surgery. This will depend on the state of your arthritis, your overall health and your ability to closely follow post-surgery instructions. You may need to lose weight, stop smoking and make other changes to your lifestyle to achieve the full benefits of surgery.

Is my overall health well enough for surgery?

Your knees may be ready for surgery, but is the rest of you? Any other health conditions you have will need to be well controlled. Your overall health plays an important role in your healing and recovery process.

Am I prepared to work through the recovery process?

Whether you have a partial or total knee replacement, joint surgery is a major event. Recovery requires a commitment to weeks of post-surgery rehabilitation and exercise to regain muscle strength, range of motion and good mobility. There will be good days and bad days as your body heals. You will need to be committed to following your post-surgery regimen even when it hurts.

Does my insurance policy cover the costs of joint surgery and recovery?

Make sure you understand what your insurance plan will cover, including things you may or may not need like at-home nursing care. Know your out-of-pocket costs and make sure you are able to comfortably afford those expenses.

Will I be able to take the necessary time off?

Recovery from joint surgery can take up to six weeks or longer. You should expect to be homebound for the first two to three weeks after surgery. Check with your employer to ensure you can take the time off or make arrangements to work from home if that’s an option. You may also need to get help with family and personal responsibilities.

Do I have a support system in place to help during my recovery?

Post-surgery recovery is not something you can do alone. You will need help when you return home after surgery. If you live alone and don’t have someone to help, you may want to seek home-care assistance from an agency. For at least a few weeks, you’ll likely need some assistance getting dressed, preparing food, changing your bandages, and moving around.

Taking the Next Step

It’s important that you talk to an orthopedic surgeon and the nursing staff so you understand what to expect before, during and after joint surgery. You may want to talk with other people in similar situations who have had joint surgery so you have a broad range of perspectives. Common advice is not to wait until you are barely able to function. Surgery takes planning so make sure you have the time and energy to prepare. And remember, the ultimate goal is help to relieve pain, improve function and restore mobility so you can get back to doing the things you love.

Source: Arthritis Today (February 2015)


  2 comments for “10 Questions to Ask if You’re Thinking About Joint Replacement

  1. October 22, 2015 at 11:47 pm

    I agree with what you said about considering if your pain has increased over time. If you know it keeps increasing then getting the surgery is probably a better option to help avoid even worse pain. My mom has been talking about getting this surgery, maybe I should ask her if she thinks her pain is getting worse.

    • Lori
      October 26, 2015 at 11:13 am

      Thanks for your comment. If you or your mother would like to learn more about joint replacement, we are holding a free patient education seminar on Thursday, Nov. 10 at the Beechwood Hotel in Worcester (6p) focused on joint replacement. Our chair of orthopedics, David Ayers, MD, will be discussing the path to joint replacement, and learning from years of research and patient quality data. Likewise, if your mother would like to meet with a physician for a consultation, or if you would like to register for the seminar, please call 855-UMass-MD. We would love to see you and answer any questions you may have.

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