Hip and Knee Arthritis
As a hip and knee replacement surgeon, I spend my days meeting people with arthritis. The timing is different for everyone, but if we live long enough, eventually we will all wear out our joints, and that is all that arthritis is. Arthritis management is a highly personal decision, though, and patients are often surprised when I ask what they would like me to do about it.
There is a very effective treatment option for severe hip and knee arthritis. A joint replacement involves removing the worn-out cartilage and replacing it with metal and plastic. This helps eliminate the pain caused by arthritis. Hip replacements have been called “the Surgery of the Century”, and about 95% of patients who have had one say that they would undergo the surgery again. Satisfaction with knee replacements is almost as high, at around 85%. So, what differentiates someone with arthritis from someone who has a good experience with a joint replacement?
Is Joint Replacement Surgery Right for You?
In my opinion, the difference is when there is something to be gained. The most important question I ask my patients is, “what has arthritis taken away from you?” If you have arthritis but can still do everything in life that matters to you, getting a joint replacement likely isn’t necessary yet. There are plenty of safe, non-opioid medications and injections that can help you live with the pain. When the symptoms worsen, we can revisit your options. However, if you are missing out on important activities because of your pain, surgery provides an opportunity to regain them, and a goal to make the recovery process worthwhile. In some cases that goal is as basic as being able to sleep through the night. Other patients want to work to resume their active lifestyle, and I love being back home in Washington working with patients who want to be outdoors taking advantage of the things that make this place so special.
It’s important to mention that even though hip and knee replacements are two of the most common surgeries performed in America, complications can still happen. And even when everything goes according to plan, the long-term recovery from a joint replacement is hard – especially knee replacements. Plus, because the surgical procedure preserves the other tissues around the joint such as muscles, tendons and ligaments, people still have aches and pains in these other structures following surgery. Patients generally report that it takes about 12 weeks before they feel better than they did before surgery, so having a goal in mind helps you persevere through the recovery process. And when you achieve your goals postoperatively, it gives us both an indication that our hard work was worth it.
Discussing with Your Doctor
If you have been told you have arthritis or think that you might, my first step is to have a conversation with you about how it is impacting your life. What activities matter to you? Can you still do them despite this pain? Is it worth a surgery and a lot of hard work for you to get them back? These are the questions that we have to answer together to determine if the time is right for a joint replacement. If you are having pain in your hip or knee, I’d love to start that conversation with you.