People are living longer than ever and many of us want to remain active later in life. All those years of activity can wear on our bodies, especially our joints.
While minor pain and aches are normal, long-lasting pain or pain that causes you to make lifestyle changes are something you should consider talking to your provider about because it may be arthritis.
Arthritis is a general term for conditions that affect the joints and surrounding tissues. Its most common form is osteoarthritis, which occurs when the cartilage that cushions joints breaks down, causing bones to rub together. The main symptoms of arthritis are joint pain, swelling, and stiffness, which typically worsen with age.
Do I need joint replacement surgery?
Joint replacement surgery may be helpful for those with serious knee and hip pain. Surgeons perform more than 600,000 knee replacements and 300,000 total hip replacements in the United States each year.
Chronic pain doesn’t have to be a daily part of life. Treatment of arthritis starts without surgery. Less invasive treatment options include:
- Braces or other supports
- Anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen or naproxen
- Heat and ice
- Corticosteroid, hyaluronic acid, or platelet-rich plasma joint injections
- Physical therapy
These treatments can provide temporary relief, but they don’t solve the underlying cause of the problem. Some people suffer with pain, swelling, or stiffness for years before considering surgery, while others see a provider when mechanical symptoms – buckling, clicking, grinding, or limping – get worse. These symptoms can cause long-term damage to the joint as well as present safety issues such as falling at home or at work, which can lead to other issues. When the pain is preventing you from living the life you want to live, surgery may be the answer.
What should I expect with surgery and recovery?
Hospital stays for joint replacement surgery average only a day or two. Factors that can speed up or slow down your recovery include your overall health – condition before surgery, age, medical history, and other risk factors – and how fast you progress with physical therapy. Some patients may even be able to go home on the same day as their hip or knee replacement.
Fear of pain from surgery is one of the biggest reasons why people avoid having a hip or a knee replacement. Many people experience pain differently, but we have made significant advances in the way we help patients manage pain. Pain control comes from using several different medications that work on the spinal cord and the brain. Doing so means smaller doses and fewer side effects. The good news is that post-surgical pain will improve daily, which is better than suffering through a lifetime of arthritis pain.
When will I be back to normal?
Recovery times can vary. It’s good to get moving as soon as possible, so physical therapy usually begins the day after surgery. You should expect to use crutches or a walker until your doctor decides you can walk unassisted.
Even though the skin incision will heal in a few weeks, the process of continued healing can take up to a year. Studies show that about eight out of ten people who have a hip or knee replacement are pain free within a year.
As active adults, you may be concerned about missing work for your surgery and recovery. If you have a sedentary job or can perform your job with minimal movement and lifting, you may be able to return to work within six weeks. If you have a labor-intensive job, it could be three months before you are ready for physically demanding tasks or to take on any heavy lifting.
For many patients, joint replacement is the best option to return to an active, pain-free life. No one should have to live a life limited by pain. A new hip or knee can allow you to return to your favorite activities like walking, swimming, biking, playing with your grandchildren, golfing, fishing, or hunting. If joint replacement surgery sounds like it might be right for you, talk to your doctor or an orthopaedic specialist. They’ll help you weigh the benefits and risks and put you on the path to living with joints that work for you.
Kyle Hubler, DO, is an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in total hip and knee replacements at UPMC in North Central Pa., that sees patients in Williamsport and Muncy. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Hubler, call 570-321-2020. For more information on joint replacement surgery at UPMC, visit UPMC.com/OrthoNCPA.