How to Avoid Joint Replacement Surgery
Needing a hip or knee replacement may be scary but having one done can offer a much fuller life. However, if a joint replacement could be avoided all together, it's safe to say that most people wouldn’t be lining up for one.
The real question is: Can one really avoid an impending joint replacement? Can you stop a hip or knee replacement that's barreling down the tracks from arriving at the station?
We did some research and spoke to our medical advisors for answers. The conclusion: postponing the need for a joint replacement is possible. However, in terms of a magic cure that can undo the osteoarthritis or bone degradation plaguing your joints—there simply isn't one (sorry).
Read on as we walk you through the things you can do to promote good joint health and function, and if all else fails, how to buy yourself some extra time before surgery.
According to Harvard Health Publication, “Losing weight, strengthening muscles, and increasing flexibility may help you stave off joint replacement.”
As Harvard Health explains, strengthening muscles and gaining flexibility can postpone joint replacement surgery. Along those same lines, a lifetime of muscle strengthening around the joint and a focus on improving flexibility with the help of a professional, could serve as a great preventative measure. Building strength around the muscles that support the knee (quadriceps and hamstrings) and the hip (glutes, buttocks, flexors), are key to absorbing and balancing high-impact movement. For example, a runner that has weaker muscles surrounding her knee joint, may be putting herself on the fast-track to knee joint degradation and damage.
Think of strong muscles surrounding the joint as insulation absorbing impact. The better your insulation, the less impact your hip or knee joint will have to absorb.
A professional physical therapist will build a custom workout plan that targets the weak muscles that may be putting your joints at risk. If you’re already in deep with joint pain, damage or immobility, working with a physical therapist is less preventative, but even more critical. A good PT will keep you functioning at your highest level possible, prep you for surgery (if it’s recommended), and will speed-up your recovery.
As discussed countless times throughout the PeerWell PreHab program, one of the single best things you can do for your joints is lose weight. Not only does weight loss lower your risk of complications during and after surgery, but it drastically reduces the pressure on your joints. This is especially true for your knee joint.
For each pound you lose, your knee is offloaded 5-10 times this amount. In other words, dropping 10 pounds is like relieving 50-100 pounds of pressure off your knees. Crazy, isn't it?
The amount of pressure on your knees depends on your weight and the impact-level of the activity you’re doing (for example, running is high-impact). Shed some extra weight, and you will feel less pain, have increased mobility, and relieve some serious pressure off your joints—all of which will buy you extra time before a hip or knee prosthesis.
Although high-impact, high-intensity sports like running, football or tennis play a key role in causing hip or knee replacement surgery, regular exercise is good for joint health. For people living with arthritis, stiffness and joint pain, exercise is critical. Exercise is necessary for bone health, muscle strength and balance, as well as a host of other factors like better sleep, weight loss, mental health, and so forth.
PreHab exercises designed for those preparing for a replacement are low-impact exercises that aim to better your joints. Also, cardio exercise like bicycling, water aerobics, swimming, walking, and machines like the elliptical are open for business! Don’t forget about becoming a yoga, tai chi or pilates master! These exercises typically are slower, and focus on targeted strength-building and balance.
If you’ve got arthritis or joint pain, remember to go slow and ease into the activity. Applying ice after your workout can help with inflammation and swelling, while stopping pain before it starts.
Remember, during exercise you must listen to your body. Don’t push yourself beyond the "discomfort" level of pain- you'll be causing more damage than good!
Injections: Hyaluronic Acid, Botox, Corticosteroid
Injections are given to most patients suffering from arthritis and joint damage. Steroid injections (like cortisone) reduce inflammation and pain; hyaluronic acid injections act as a natural lubricant that can improve movement and cut down pain; and increasingly, botox-like injections are being used to temporarily paralyze and treat the area that is causing pain.
A study in the UK offered a botox-like injection in the knee joints of athletic patients experiencing chronic patellofemoral (knee) pain. The injection of Dysport (a type of botulinum) was administered followed by weeks of physiotherapy. According to the study, 69% of patients required no further medical interventions after the trial, having no knee pain 5 years later when evaluated. Although this study was overwhelmingly positive for the case of botox-like injections for those with moderate patellofemoral pain, those with more severe osteoarthritis and damage may not see the same results.
Overall, injections into problem joints are proven ways to crush pain, offer greater mobility, reduce inflammation, and ultimately, offer some much-needed relief while weighing the pros and cons of a replacement.
Other Things You Can Do to Buy Time:
Although there’s no silver bullet or cure for joint pain, buying yourself time with ongoing maintenance, a healthy lifestyle and by paying attention to your body is a real thing. In addition to physical therapy, weight loss, exercise and injections, here are other things you can do:
- Medication—Over-the-counter medications NSAIDs (like Advil and Aleve) or acetaminophen (like Tylenol) can help reduce pain and inflammation. Although they aren’t preventative, they are reactive to the pain you may be in. It’s not a long-term fix but can help you feel better while you plot out a more permanent solution.
- Nutrition— Food is medicine. Eating a diet rich in foods and vitamins that naturally boost healing, reduce inflammation and swelling, as well as repair bone and tissue can be both preventative and help your joint health improve once it’s become an issue. For instance, Vitamin C repairs tissue and build collagen—both the building blocks of healing your joint. Read more about food that heal and how to eat for your joints.
- Take Care of Yourself—When compounded, a bunch of small things can work together to make your joints healthy (or unhealthy). Pay attention to the shoes you wear, take note of small aches and pains, seek medical help even if a joint injury seems to have “gone away”, and put effort into reducing stress and being happy. The more you put into you, the more in tune you will be to your joints!
The Arthritis Foundation put together a list of “51 Ways to Be Good to Your Joints”. The simple list has a few helpful tidbits that pairs well with this article.
Avoiding a hip or knee replacement is something that anyone with joint pain wishes for. However, if you’ve found yourself requiring a hip or knee replacement, there are things you can do to improve your outcome and speed up your recovery.
Sign-up for PeerWell today and get matched to a top surgeon in your area who offers PreHab for free.