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8 Key Facts About Knee Replacement Surgery

Will these new knees hold up?

3. Ballpark cost. Knee replacements are covered by Medicare and most private insurance. Hospital and surgeon costs vary widely, depending on the area of the country and the facility. According to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, however, in 2008 hospitals charged an average of $45,783 for a patient stay of three to five days for a total knee replacement. But experts say few hospitals actually get that much. Medicare pays about $11,000, and some hospitals and insurance companies can negotiate reduced rates. Hospital costs include the implant, which runs from $5,000 to $10,000, surgical fees and hospital physical therapy. Partial knee replacement surgery costs about half that of total knee replacement.

4. Choose your surgeon and hospital wisely. A 2004 study reported in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery found that patients operated on by surgeons who performed 50 or more knee replacements a year had a lower risk of complications than those whose surgeons performed 12 or fewer a year. Patients who went to hospitals where more than 200 procedures were performed a year also fared better than those who went to hospitals that did 25 or fewer a year.

5. Beware marketing. In 2008, 63 percent of all knee replacement operations were performed on women. That may be because women over the age of 50 are more likely to develop osteoarthritis of the knee than men, experts say. Capitalizing on this, some manufacturers are promoting "gender specific" knee replacement devices they claim are tailored to a woman's unique physiology. However, Sierra of the Mayo Clinic says that while there are some subtle differences in structure between men and women, "it really is size-specific, not gender-specific. Your surgeon," he says, "will measure you to get the right size" device.

6. Recovery. The hospital stay is usually about three days after a total knee replacement operation; one day with a partial replacement. There is no cast, just a dressing covering the incision. After a total replacement you may need a short stay in a rehabilitation facility. And once at home you are going to need help. While recovery differs for everyone, expect to be uncomfortable for a week. When the discomfort subsides, start physical therapy. You'll probably need about two months of physical therapy, and it's critical — if you don't do the work right away, you can't catch up because the knee stiffens. After a partial replacement, expect two to four weeks of physical therapy.

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