You’ve put up with the clicking, the pain and stiffness. You’ve gotten medication and injections, tried physical therapy and even alternative treatments like acupuncture, but the question still lurks: When is it time to finally give in and get a joint replaced?
The simple answer is there is no simple answer, according to Dr. Matthew Hummel.
Itâ€™s all about how you feel
A physician from OrthoCincy who specializes in hip and knee replacements, Hummel explained that it really comes down to quality of life.
“Unless there’s the immediacy of a fracture or a sports injury, the question of when to look at the surgical option is a very personal thing for people. A lot of times, patients say that it’s their hip or knee, and they want to keep it,” he said.
Hummel says that’s when he’ll have a serious discussion with his patient and describe what the surgery is likely to do for them and what it won’t. With nearly one million knee or hip replacements performed in the U.S. last year, according to the Archives of Internal Medicine, the technology and techniques employed by surgeons make outcomes highly positive â€” some studies place patient satisfaction as high as 87 percent. People who have had replacements report greatly reduced pain and a return to a lifestyle that they thought was gone forever.
Weighing risks and rewards
Hummel is honest with patients, though. As with any surgery, replacements come with a risk and any pain relief is not absolute.
“Anyone who tells you that they’re completely pain-free after surgery is either lying or they’re tough as nails,” he said. “What the surgery will do is greatly reduced pain and improve your quality of life, but it won’t make you 21 again.”
That’s why a frank discussion of options with your doctor is important.
Some things to keep in mind when mulling the surgical option:
- Delaying a replacement can have serious repercussions
If you continue to muddle through, you may develop bone and tendon deformities outside a weakened joint. A loss of function in muscles and ligaments surrounding the joint can also make the procedure and your recovery more difficult. More complex surgeries mean more time under anesthesia, which carries more risk.
- Replacing a joint can happen at any time
Some patients delay for fear their joint replacement will not last as long as they expect to live. That may have been true at one point, but improvements in joint materials have been huge. In general, knee replacements last at least 10 years, and newer ones may last 20 to 25 years or longer. Hip joints can last as long.
- Having a surgery earlier could mean a higher success rate
The younger and more active a patient is, physical therapy after the surgery is likely to be easier and yield better results. Patients are also able to return to normal function and do better in the years ahead, according to orthopedists.
- Living with the pain should never be an option
According to studies, osteoarthritis patients 75 and even older appear to benefit greatly from joint replacement surgery. The Archives of Internal Medicine conducted one study which followed a group of 200 elderly patients with severe knee or hip osteoarthritis, assessing them for years after their procedures, and the results were overwhelmingly positive.
“There are a lot of issues to consider, like your weight and genetic conditions, along with your expectations, so it’s important that you sit down with your doctor and ask all the questions that you have. It’s good to have that discussion and look at all the factors,” says Hummel.
To learn more about joint replacements, and what to expect throughout the process,Â join the experts from the Orthopedic Institute at St. Elizabeth for Living Without Limits: Total Joint Replacements. Experts will be on hand toÂ discuss advancements in treatment options for chronic knee and hip pain. The educational session will be on Tuesday, November 15Â at the SETEC on Olympic Boulevard in Erlanger (formerly the NKU METS Center). Please call (859) 301-7276 to reserve your spot.