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Don’t Wait Too Long for Joint Replacement

Posted on in Surgery

Joint replacement surgery, particularly of the knee and hip, is becoming increasingly common in the United States. Almost 5 percent of all Americans over the age of 50 have reportedly undergone total knee replacement with more than 600,000 Americans undergoing knee replacement each year. Hip replacement surgery, which is the second most common joint replacement surgery, is performed on approximately 120,000 people every year in the U.S.

The leading cause of joint replacement is osteoarthritis, which is characterized by the inflammation of certain joints. Osteoarthritis is generally caused by wear and tear or by previous trauma to the affected body part.

When Is the Best Time for Joint Replacement Surgery?

In the past, joint replacement surgery used to be performed for patients with end-stage arthritis only, meaning walking was no longer possible and they were confined to a wheelchair. However, nowadays, much younger and more active patients suffering from chronic pain undergo the procedure, which is one of the main reasons for the spike in its prevalence in recent years.

The ideal time to undergo knee replacement or hip replacement surgery is still somewhat controversial. Undergoing joint replacement too early is not ideal as the artificial joints may wear out after 10 to 20 years, thus requiring a second surgery. On the other hand, waiting until end-stage arthritis or until you cannot handle the pain anymore is also less than ideal as the benefits of the surgery may be limited.

If you wait too long, the cartilage of the knee or hip may be completely worn out as a result of the progressing arthritis, making the operation substantially more complicated. Being wheelchair-bound or limited in your daily activities for extended periods of time can affect the muscles in your legs, making the post-operative physiotherapy and rehabilitation much more challenging. End-stage osteoarthritis also generally occurs in older individuals, and older age is known to be associated with an increased risk of surgical complications and a slower recovery.

When asking yourself whether the time is right for joint replacement, consider the following points:

1. Is there evidence of joint damage upon X-ray imaging?

2. Do you suffer moderate to severe persistent pain that cannot be relieved by other means such as medication, physiotherapy or lifestyle changes?

3. Do you experience significant functional limitation and pain resulting in you having to avoid your regular activities?

If you feel like these apply to you, make an appointment with your doctor or orthopedic surgeon today to discuss whether this is the right time for surgery.

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