Thinking About Joint Replacement Surgery? Read This First.

Have you caught yourself thinking, “do I need a joint replacement?”. If so, chances are this thought hasn’t danced through your mind on a whim. Chances are you’ve been dealing with arthritis, joint pain, and reduced mobility for some time. If this sounds like you, read on. We’ll be detailing the perks of going ahead with a hip or knee replacement, revealing the physical and emotional symptoms that point to now being the right time, and walking you through the next steps toward creating a healthier you.

Why is Joint Replacement Surgery a Good Idea?

One of the most convincing arguments for why joint replacement surgery is simple: it’s among the most successful procedures in modern medicine. The effectiveness of total hip arthroplasty (THA) and knee arthroplasty surgery (TKA) at relieving pain and increasing quality of life is such that 95.5% of total hip replacement patients reported having less pain after surgery. In addition, 95% of knee replacement candidates report being satisfied with their outcome.

If you’re in chronic joint pain and you and your doctor have concluded that joint replacement surgery is the logical next step, statistically, you are in a better place than ever for a good (scratch that, great) outcome.

Reasons Why Hip or Knee Surgery Could Be the Best Next Move:

  • Sooner is Better Than Later—If you’ve been suffering with pain and arthritis, there is research that shows sooner is better than later. Putting of the inevitable can cause your joint bone and cartilage to break down further. A study cited by John Hopkins University found that patients who reported poorer joint function at the time of surgery also had worse function two years after orthopedic surgery. In other words, the worse you let your osteoarthritis get, the slower your knee replacement recovery or hip replacement recovery will be and the poorer your overall function may be.
  • Joints Are Lasting Longer Than Ever—Historically, those with joint pain were told to “hold off” from surgery as long as possible. This was largely because the expected lifetime of an artificial joint was about 10 years. Today, the artificial joints themselves are more durable than ever with 80% of joint replacements lasting past the 20 year mark.
  • Technique is Better Than Ever—In the same way that the implants themselves are more durable, healthy and natural-feeling than ever, today’s surgical techniques are unparalleled. With each passing year, surgeons are performing more hip and knee replacements than the year prior and are doing so with greater specialization, better tools and cutting-edge technology. These leaps and bounds are reflected in the fact that average hospital stay after surgery has gone down from 10 days in 1990, to five days in 2000, to just one to three days today.
  • Improve Your Quality of Life—Unfortunately, the overwhelming trend when it comes to joint pain and arthritis is that it usually doesn’t go away on its own. In fact, with time, it almost always gets worse. If your hip or knee is limiting your ability to work, do the activities you love and is affecting your overall quality of life, jumping on board with a game-changing surgery could be the best decision you can make for your future self.

Now that you’re seeing why joint replacement surgery is a great idea, let’s talk timing. How do you know when the right time for a replacement is?

When is the Right Time for a Joint Replacement?

After you and your care provider have decided to go ahead with a joint replacement, the next logical question to ask is, “when?”. This is an individual choice that is based on a lot of different factors like: fear, pain, timing, finances, mental and physical preparedness, support and more. As a less-than-scientific rule of thumb, it’s time to get a joint replacement when you simply can’t take it anymore. From a healthcare perspective, a telltale sign that it might be time is when you’ve exhausted all non-surgical treatments.

Here are some symptoms and signs that you may need a partial or total joint replacement.

The Following Non-Invasive Treatments are No Longer As Effective:

  • Oral medications (NSAIDs like Advil, Tylenol and other prescription medications)
  • Joint injections (like corticosteroid or hyaluronic acid)
  • Physical therapy
  • Walking devices

Red Flag Physical Indicators to Watch Out For:

  • Decreased motion
  • Lasting stiffness
  • Your hip or knee is severely swollen
  • Your leg is bowing in or out
  • You feel a “grating” of your joint

Mini Quiz: Do I Need a Joint Replacement?

Answer “Yes” or “No” to the following questions. Pay attention to your answers by taking mental notes or jotting them down on a sheet of paper.

  1. Is your joint pain chronic and sometimes uncontrollable?
  2. Is your reduced hip or knee function getting in the way of everyday life?
  3. Have you tried various non-surgical treatments for your hip and knee?
  4. Are the non-surgical treatments losing effectiveness?
  5. Are you able to get away from work and other obligations?
  6. Do you have a support system to help in your recovery (family, friends, neighbors)?
  7. Do you and your doctor think you’re in good overall health?
  8. Is your mood and overall mental well-being affected by your joint?
  9. Are you saying “no” the the activities and plans you used to enjoy?
  10. Do things (your joint pain, mobility, optimism etc.) feel like they are getting worse?

If you’ve answered “yes” to majority of the above questions, we suggest you speak to your care team about the possibility of joint replacement surgery. If you have already spoken to your team but have been debating whether or not to schedule a replacement, we hope that you found the information in this article helpful.

Next Steps

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If you believe that hip or knee replacement surgery is the right solution for you, here’s what we recommend you doing.

  1. Meet with your doctor— If your doctor has not yet referred you to an orthopedic surgeon, this is a necessary step in moving forward. Your orthopedic surgeon will have a clearer idea if and when you should receive a total or partial hip or knee replacement.
  2. Consider scheduling— Is now a good time for you? Are you at your wits end? Despite common anxiety, are you economically, physically and mentally prepared to embark on this journey? Do you have a realistic understanding of the hip and knee replacement recovery timeline? Although we’ve mentioned that sooner can be better than later, the most important thing is that you’re at your mental and physical best on surgery day—this brings us to our next step.
  3. Start PreHab Immediately— If you’ve scheduled surgery, the next step is to get started on a PreHab program as soon as possible. The more time you have to get your body and mind in the best place possible through PreHab exercises, boosting your body's healing through superfoods, and breaking bad habits, the more control you have in steering your outcome in the right direction.

So, should you have joint replacement surgery? Since it’s an elective procedure, the decision is largely yours to make under the recommendation of your trusted care team. Weigh the pros and cons and determine what the right move is for you today and most importantly, tomorrow. Also, know that anxiety and fear about pain and the unknown is completely normal when making this big decision.

Decided to have a joint replacement? Sign-up for PeerWell and we’ll guide you through the daily activities that will help you become your healthiest, most prepared self on surgery day.

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Hi, I'm Grace. I write all things surgery for the PeerWell blog. You may remember me from such titles as: "Diabetes & Joint Replacement 101" & "Sex After a Joint Replacement".

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