The decision to have joint replacement surgery is not a simple one. That’s why an honest discussion of your options with a doctor is crucial, according to Dr. Matthew Hummel, a knee and hip replacement specialist with OrthoCincy.
So, when you’ve finally had enough pain to motivate you to seek a medical opinion, it’s a good idea to come armed with questions and prepared to answer your doctor’s questions, too.
What to expect at your first appointment
“That first appointment can be really important,” said Hummel. “Usually, it’s a good idea to bring your spouse, too. As a population, we can be pretty self-delusional, you know, the ‘I’m not doing so bad’ thing. The perfect example is when I ask how often they find themselves limping and they’ll say they don’t limp all that often. Then the spouse will look at them, look at me and say ‘They limp all the time.'”
More often, questions won’t occur to patients until they’ve already left their first appointment. Because it’s important for a patient’s comfort, that’s why Hummel and OrthoCincy doctors often have patients come in for a second consult before scheduling their surgery.
“We try to give them all the information we can at that first visit, but there are always questions they forget to ask. We started about five years ago scheduling them for a follow-up at no charge so they can get all of their questions answered. That way, they can go into their surgery with all the information they need and know what to expect.”
Here are a few questions ““ and answers ““ to help you start your research:
1. What are the risks and potential complications?
The most frequent is blood clots in leg veins, which can be handled by prescribed blood thinners and leg compression equipment. A less common complication is infection, which may lead to the need to remove the new joint, but that occurrence is rare.
2. Will it be invasive?
Some replacement procedures can be done using minimally invasive techniques, which require less of an incision, less pain and a quicker recovery. Ask your doctor if it’s an option and what the risks and benefits are.
3. What are my other treatment options?
Anti-inflammatories injections may help you put off surgery, if that’s your decision. A variety of braces and therapies can also help you deal with your joint pain in the short term.
4. What are my risks if I don’t have the surgery?
Further damage to the joint may require a more complex surgery and longer recovery time down the road, but your doctor will have a good handle on what your individual risks are.
5. How much pain I can expect and how will it be managed?
Initially, you may have a great deal of pain. After all, your joint will have been removed and the new joint will involve a metal rod being inserted into the remaining bone. But pain medications and physical therapy will reduce the pain in the weeks following surgery.
6. How should I prepare for surgery?
Losing weight, to relieve pressure on joints, is always high on doctor’s list, as is to stop smoking. Your doctor can give you other ways to help increase the success of your surgery.
7. What should I expect in the way of rehabilitation?
Successful joint replacement requires a considerable time and energy in rehabilitation following the surgery. Rehab can begin in the hospital, usually the day after surgery. A strict timetable of exercise, rest and medication usually follows.
“A reasonable timeline for their recovery and a timeline for returning to work is also important,” said Hummel. “We want them going into the process with a good idea what lies ahead, both the positive and the potential hurdles.”
To learn more about joint replacements, and what to expect throughout the process, join the experts from the Orthopedic Institute at St. Elizabeth for Living Without Limits: Total Joint Replacements. Experts will be on hand to discuss advancements in treatment options for chronic knee and hip pain. The educational session will be on Tuesday, November 15 at the SETEC on Olympic Boulevard in Erlanger (formerly the NKU METS Center). Please call (859) 301-7276 to reserve your spot.