Phil Moeller: Navigating a joint replacement

Written by Phil Moeller, UnitedHealthcare Contributor, Medicare And Retirement Expert

As a proud member of the first Baby Boomer class of 1946, I am a big fan of health care advances. It’s a good thing, too, because one thing I’m not is much of a physical specimen. Stuff wears out, including things like knees, hips and shoulders. I’ve already had a knee replacement and am recovering from a recent shoulder replacement just this month.

I hope a joint replacement is not in your future – explore the scope of potential options with your doctor before rushing into surgery. Make sure you get the tests and scans to help verify that this is the right decision for you. But if it is, here’s my advice on how to go about it. 

1. This is serious stuff, so pay attention

Removing a joint and putting a hunk of metal in its place is major surgery. Millions of people have gone before you, so a lot is known about these procedures.

  • Read up on your procedure.
  • Prepare a list of questions and concerns to ask your doctor ahead of time.
  • Make sure you have a trusted family member or friend as your surgical “buddy,” sticking by you through the pre- and post-op journey for note-taking, chore-assisting and general support.

2. It’s called “elective” surgery for a reason

In most cases, the timing of your joint replacement is under your control. If you can, make sure you have plenty of time to prepare and recover and that you can adjust your schedule so that it accommodates you, and not the other way around.

3. Trusting your surgeon

Find a surgeon who specializes in the replacement you need and research who does lots of them – which research shows leads to better outcomes. Your friends, or their friends, have likely been through this. Ask around.

Surgeons often have different approaches to your procedure, inpatient care and rehab. Ask your surgeon about the type of full joint replacement they recommend, and why. Some surgeons prefer hospitals; others use outpatient clinics. Joint replacements usually are treated as outpatient surgery, even if done in hospitals. 

4. Learn how Medicare works

Work with your surgeon’s office to help understand the costs of your procedure, including what is covered by Original Medicare or your private Medicare plan, and what your out-of-pocket costs might be.

5. Prepare for your surgery

Give yourself enough time to get more into shape before you schedule the operation. The stronger and healthier you are going in, the better chance your body will have of recovering afterwards. You may not want to channel Sylvester Stallone in the Rocky movies. Do it anyway.

If your need for a joint replacement makes exercising a challenge, consider some low-impact ways to get healthier like yoga, walking or swimming – plus incorporating smart habits like getting enough sleep, limiting or avoiding alcohol and eating healthy.

6. Do the work after your surgery

Don’t stint on physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises after you get your new body part. Your surgery will likely not be the success you hope for if you lay on your back and wait for nature to take its course. Some pain is part of this process. Talk with your doctor and therapist to make sure what pain is OK and what isn’t. My knee surgeon said he’d be happy if I could ice my leg 24-7.

Good luck!

Author bio

Philip Moeller is the principal author of the Get What’s Yours series of books about Social Security, Medicare, and health care. Read his Substack newsletter and his posts on Threads @healthauthor.

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