Get the facts on joint replacement surgery

Get the facts on joint replacement surgery

[5 MIN READ]

In this article:

  • Find out who’s a good candidate for joint replacement surgery

  • Why the surgery isn’t just for seniors

  • Providence orthopedic surgeon Nirav Shah explains what patients can expect

Chronic hip, knee, or shoulder pain can keep you from enjoying your favorite activities. Sometimes, it even interferes with daily life. Walking up steps, making dinner or doing the laundry can become painful chores. If conservative treatment isn’t relieving your pain, it may be time to talk to your doctor about joint replacement surgery.

Get answers to common questions to help decide if surgery is right for you and be sure to talk to your doctor about your options.

Who is a good candidate for joint replacement surgery?

Joint replacement surgery isn’t the first treatment option your orthopedic specialist or surgeon will discuss if you’re experiencing joint pain. The first step to finding relief from pain is an accurate diagnosis. This helps your provider understand what’s causing your symptoms.  And it gives them a better idea of what approach can help you feel better.

Your initial treatment plan may include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Bracing
  • Injections (including cortisone)
  • Medication

If you continue to experience pain after conservative treatment (or if you have severe joint arthritis), your provider may recommend joint replacement surgery. You may be a good candidate if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Pain with walking
  • Pain at rest
  • Pain that keeps you up at night
  • Start-up pain (pain that occurs when you get up from sitting)
  • Chronic dull pain and sharp pain with movement
  • Pain that severely limits your daily activities

Am I too young for joint replacement?

You may be surprised to learn that patients in their 40s and 50s are sometimes good candidates for surgery.

“We associate joint replacement surgeries with older adults because the materials we used to replace the joint used to wear out more quickly and with prolonged use,” says Nirav Shah, M.D., orthopedic surgeon at Providence. “Now, the materials we use for joint replacement surgery are much better. They last longer. Younger patients can get 20 or more years from surgery. This gives them a better quality of life.”

This is particularly true for knee replacements. Knee replacements are more common than hip replacements. Younger patients may also be candidates for a partial knee replacement if only one part of the joint is affected. This helps ease pain and improve range of motion.

Is a joint completely replaced during surgery?

The name “joint replacement” can be misleading. Patients expect inches of their joint to be taken out and replaced. What happens is a little less dramatic.

For example, during a knee replacement, only 8-10 millimeters are shaved from the femur, tibia and back side of the patella. (That’s just over a quarter of an inch.) Then, metal and high-grade medical plastic are used to reshape the joint. 

Is it true that hip replacements only last 10 to 15 years?

Improvements in the materials and surgical approaches are helping hip replacements last 20 and sometimes 30 years.

“Lab reports for the newest hip replacement parts show very little wear on the plastic materials. Some reports show as much as 70 years of simulated use before parts begin to wear,” Dr. Shah shares. However, he does caution that what happens in the lab isn’t always guaranteed to happen in the human body.

How long does it take to heal from joint replacement surgery?

Everyone’s recovery journey is different. However, with modern advances, healing often happens much quicker than in the past. In fact, patients are able (and encouraged) to place weight on the joint shortly after surgery. This is because advances in surgical techniques, pain management and improved components in the replaced joint are improving the healing process.

Another key part of the recovery process is physical therapy.

Physical therapy can help improve healing. It also helps patients regain function in their joints. It’s important that patients, therapists and surgeons work together to allow for safe, effective recovery.

What advances are in store for joint replacement surgery?

Orthopedic surgeons have been using robotic surgery to improve the precision of joint replacement. The more accurately the joint is placed, the more consistent the function will be. This leads to fewer complications and less wear.

While robotic surgery for joint replacement is fairly new, some data suggests it may lead to lower revision rates for partial knee replacement surgery.

Another advance in joint replacement surgery is minimally invasive hip surgery. This approach helps reduce recovery time and can even be less painful. Candidates for minimally invasive surgery are often those that are:

  • Having their first joint surgery
  • Committed to recovery and rehab
  • At a healthy weight

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.