If you’re considering replacement of one or both of your knees, one of the first steps on the road to recovery is understanding the costs associated with surgery. There are two main types of knee replacement procedures, total and partial. Each involves replacement of diseased or otherwise non-functional tissues of the knee with plastic and metal parts.

In general, it’s an extremely safe and well-understood procedure with very little risk. Financing it, however, can sometimes be a different story. Depending on your insurance plan (if any) and whether the surgery is deemed “elective”, you may end up needing to cover part or all of the costs.

First off, Who Usually Gets Knee Replacement?

For the most part, your doctor will recommend knee replacement if there’s been significant and chronic trauma to the surfaces that join the tibia and femur. The majority of patients have endured through excruciatingly painful osteoarthritis – or rheumatoid arthritis – for years, if not decades. So, aside from the expenses and recovery, most folks actually look forward to their knees going bionic :). Since it’s a permanent and irreversible procedure, make sure you’ve fully exhausted all other options before deciding to replace your knee(s).

So, What’s the Total Cost?

Knee Replacement Costs

If insurance is covering your procedure, you almost certainly have already seen an orthopedist or specialist and they’ve green lit the surgery. In that scenario, your out-of-pocket costs are bound by your plan’s terms (either just the deductible or a small percentage of the total fee). If you don’t have insurance or they’re not willing to cover it, the entire procedure in the United States will run you from $30,000 to $45,000. That’s typically an all-inclusive price: pre-operative care, anesthesia, the actual surgery, equipment and in-patient post-surgery care for 3-7 days. It’s certainly not cheap and most will need to carefully weigh the upside in your new quality of life with the investment.

Option B is a growing trend in the knee replacement field, medical tourism. Basically, it involves getting your procedure done overseas. Apart from the language barrier and culture shock, most high-end hospitals that specialize in U.S. patients offer all the technology, equipment and skill to match their U.S. counterparts…at a fraction of the price. See the table below for a breakdown by country:

Country Price (estimates)
Total Replacement Partial Replacement
U.S. $35,000 $17,000
Thailand $15,000 $7,000
Costa Rica $12,000 $6,000
Mexico $9,000 $5,000
India $7,000 $4,000
  compare total vs partial

Factors that drive the differences in price between countries include any/all of the following: general demand, the local economy, seasonality, hospital occupancy, US dollar conversion rate and much more. If you’re considering medical tourism, your best bet is to give the hospitals a call directly and ask for their overseas patient coordinator. They’ll answer all your questions and guide you through the logistics if you decide to take the next step (getting your patient records sent over, etc.).

What to Expect After Total Knee Replacement Surgery

Whether you have your surgery at your local hospital or abroad, the road to recovery follows a pretty standard protocol. Most folks end up staying in the hospital 4-6 days after their procedure. The first day after your surgery, you’ll probably be asked to stand and then gingerly walk (most people use parallel bars for support). You’ll almost certainly feel some soreness and pain. Each subsequent day, as the swelling subsides and the knee slowly acclimatizes to the new hardware, you’ll be able to walk with less and less support from crutches, canes, etc.

After 4-6 weeks, most people begin to start feeling close to normal… and, best of all, the overwhelming relief from those years and years of chronic pain. Throughout the entire process, it’s key you follow your doctor’s rehabilitative and physical therapy schedule; it’ll ensure a speedy and successful recovery. As the muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding your knee gradually improve, your range of motion and flexibility will follow suit. Soon enough, you’ll be fully healed and ready to resume all those fun activities your old knees just didn’t allow you to do. Enjoy your new freedom!

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More about Post-operative Care

Here's a great knee recovery video from the Mayo Clinic. It'll take you through what to expect the days, weeks and months after your procedure. For a bit more info, check out this link.