The Importance of Timing for a Knee Replacement Surgery

Knee replacement surgery is one of the most common procedures given to seniors in the United States. It’s generally performed to combat osteoarthritis in the knee when other forms of management are no longer an option, though other conditions can lead to a need for this surgery. Knee replacements can relieve a great deal of pain and return mobility, which is why it can be so important to have the procedure done when it becomes necessary.

What most people don’t realize is there’s a correct time to get knee replacement surgery, and a recent study from Northwestern University found that many seniors are missing it. The right time for you to get your knee surgery has more to do with your individual circumstances and the progression of your condition. Because of this, identifying the right time can be difficult. So, when should you be getting a knee replacement, and why is it so important to get it on time?

Follow Your Doctor’s Advice

If you have osteoarthritis in your knee, you may eventually require surgery. To know the exact time, you’ll want to work with your doctor to determine when surgery is right for you. Each case will be different, making it difficult to nail down a general timeline. That said, there are a few warning signs that can indicate when it may be time for knee replacement surgery. If your knees are bowed in or out or you experience moderate to severe knee pain, even when you’re resting, you may want to look into getting surgery. Lighter signs may include struggling to walk for longer distances due to pain or difficulty getting in or out of a chair. If you’re experiencing these due to knee pain and it’s interfering significantly with your life, you’ll want to begin a dialog with your primary care physician to figure out when knee replacement surgery may be appropriate.

If pricing is a concern, Medicare beneficiaries may have less to worry about. In some cases, this management or surgery may be covered by Medicare. Those enrolled in Original Medicare will have part of the surgery covered by Part A if it is performed at an inpatient facility or covered by Part B if performed at an outpatient facility. You can also have a Medicare Supplement to assist with some of the costs. Medicare Advantage plans are required to cover at least what Original Medicare does, but, depending on your plan, you may have additional coverage.

Why You Can Get Knee Surgery Too Early

So, what is the problem with not getting knee surgery at the right time? There are actually complications that come with receiving knee replacement surgery too early. A big one is the lifetime of the replacement. Artificial joints tend to last between 15 and 20 years, so getting an unneeded surgery at a younger age can increase your chances of needing to get another replacement surgery years later. This opens you up to further complications that can come from any routine surgery.

The Northwestern University study also compounded on these concerns – by getting the surgery too early, you’ll also likely see minimal benefit from it, especially when you consider the risk and cost. A Harvard Medical School Q&A echoed these sentiments, saying that getting the replacement surgery too soon may lead you to not seeing enough improvement to make the surgery worth it.

Why You Can Get Knee Surgery Too Late

If getting the surgery too early is bad for you, surely waiting a bit until you’re sure you need the surgery is okay, right? After all, better late than never? Unfortunately, while the surgery may help you, if you wait too long, you can do real and unfixable damage to your joint. In fact, the main focus of the Northwestern study, mentioned previously, was regarding those who delayed getting the surgery. Some the study’s participants, 90 percent who would have benefited from the replacement surgery unfortunately waited too long.

The researchers found two major risks for beneficiaries who delay getting a knee replacement. The first of these is that the patient will suffer pain and debilitation that they would otherwise not need to go through. The suffering can lead to further issues, like depression along with the loss of fitness, which can cause other health issues to develop, like cardiovascular diseases. The second concern is more severe. The study found that waiting too long actually lessened the benefit of the surgery, returning less mobility compared to someone who had the surgery at the right time. These findings are backed by other experts, who found that getting a knee replacement surgery too late can lead to:

  • Deformities around the knee joint
  • Weakened or complete loss of function in muscles or ligaments
  • Chronic pain that causes you to struggle with or completely disrupts normal activities
  • Further complications at a later date

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We understand that getting knee replacement surgery isn’t anyone’s first choice of how to spend an afternoon. But by putting it off (or getting one too early for that matter) you can undo a lot of the good that the surgery may otherwise do for you. By working with your doctor to find when’s right for you, you can find the optimal time to get your knee replacement surgery so that you can begin your recovery in earnest.