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Helping Members Avoid Delaying Knee Replacement Surgery

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg | Oct 19, 2020

It's likely that many members are delaying knee replacement surgery, also called knee arthroplasty. They may have concerns about the procedure, such as the cost, the long recovery period and the potential risks — the Mayo Clinic lists blood clots, infection and nerve damage as just a few. Other members may postpone knee replacement surgery because of work matters, hobbies or life events like weddings or travel.

However, delaying the procedure comes with its own risks. One study from the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (JBJS) found that 91% of patients who could benefit from knee replacement surgery waited too long to have the procedure. Putting it off not only prolongs pain, but it can also negatively impact the results of the procedure once it does happen.

The Benefits of Knee Replacement Surgery

During knee replacement surgery, a surgeon cuts away damaged cartilage and bone and swaps it out for an artificial joint made of metal and plastic. The procedure helps ease pain and restore function in diseased knee joints. But holding off on a knee replacement can mean missing out on some of those benefits — the JBJS study reports that postponing the procedure may decrease how much the knee improves after surgery compared with patients who decide to have surgery earlier on.

Those who wait too long may never regain their full level of mobility. For instance, they might not be able to fully straighten their legs or walk as they did before. What's more, patients with damaged knees who can't properly exercise are at risk of developing other health problems, according to Harvard Medical School, including cardiovascular conditions and even depression.

Educating Your Members

As a union leader, you can help keep members who may benefit from a knee replacement surgery informed about the need to act early. Members who tap into a variety of resources and plan ahead will be the most successful in a lasting recovery. Consider educating your members in the following three areas.

Full Engagement With Benefits

Members need a thorough grasp of all of their health care benefits to plan well for knee replacement surgery.

Help members access the resources they need to:

  • Understand how much their insurance will cover.
  • Know how to use tools like flexible spending accounts to help with costs.
  • Schedule the costly procedure at the start of the policy year so their deductible is met and remaining health care costs are covered.
  • Be aware of additional costs, such as expenses for crutches and physical therapy.

Education Around Screening and Diagnostic Care

As members look into a knee replacement surgery, understanding how doctors evaluate joint pain is key.

An orthopedic surgeon will likely:

  • Look at the knee's stability, its strength and range of motion, and pain.
  • Take an X-ray to assess the extent of the damage to the joint.
  • Recommend surgery if a significant amount of cartilage is degraded or gone.

Good Planning for Recovery Time and Short-term Disability

A well-planned recovery period will help members get back on their feet quickly and avoid complications. Get members thinking ahead of time about their recovery and any accommodations they might need.

Well before their surgery, encourage members to:

  • Find a conveniently located physical therapist.
  • Buy or borrow crutches or a walker.
  • Arrange any needed transportation or parking.
  • Find initial help with everyday tasks like cooking and bathing.
  • Create a safe first-floor living space clear of loose rugs and obstacles.
  • Arrange for short-term disability, if needed.

By educating your members on the benefits of not delaying knee replacement surgery, you're helping to ensure their mobility and comfort. A pain-free knee will help a member both perform better on the job and enjoy life to the fullest.


With 15 years' experience writing for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, The Christian Science Monitor and Newsday—Deborah Blumberg specializes in business and finance and health and wellness. She writes about topics including corporate communications, financial markets, real estate, renewable energy, cancer, health education, nutrition, supplements, the microbiome and functional medicine. She was a Knight Center fellow and a Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism fellow. Her time working in marketing and communications at JPMorgan Chase taught her how to best tell a company's story. She's adept at turning complex ideas into compelling copy. She's also an officer of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and a Women in the Visual and Literary Arts board member, and she is fluent in Spanish.