Joint replacements. Something you may think of as a procedure intended only for your great grandmother, right? Well, it may surprise you to know that more than 1 million Americans have a hip or knee replaced each year. Research has shown that even if you are older, joint replacement can help you move around and feel better. And what’s more surprising is that these surgeries also include young adults and even teens.
There are many illnesses and impairments that can prompt a joint replacement. Whether it’s hip or knee, the symptoms are often ignored because they may seem like a nuisance or something that isn’t as serious as needing a new joint. Stiffness? Weakness? Pain when moving? It’s not normal.
A joint replacement surgery can improve mobility up to 90 percent. Imagine what this means for a mom of three who has battled arthritis or an athlete who has spent years sliding into home or taking that last sack in the end zone.
The symptoms that indicate a joint replacement are not to be blown off as symptoms of “aging.” An aching knee, weakness in the hip or stiff joints that don’t seem to work like they used to are not unique to mature populations. Many people suffer with joint issues and age isn’t always the reason.
One thing I hear often in my practice is that people are afraid of the phrase “joint replacement.” They are worried that it won’t work because they have heard of someone else who had one years ago and had complications. People are fearful that they’ll have the surgery and their quality of life won’t improve.
Another comment I receive is that the recovery time is too long and it will impact their life more than the pain their injured joint is causing. What people need to know is that this isn’t your great grandmother’s knee or hip replacement. Medicine has advanced since those days and the amount of time for recovery has also decreased.
So how do you know if a joint replacement is the right option for you?
First, take a quick inventory of your symptoms and coping mechanisms. Are you in pain when you move? If you’re on medication for your issue, is it no longer working? Is there swelling? Do you avoid certain activities because of your immobility?
Next, see an orthopedic surgeon. He or she will be able to assess if surgery or therapy is necessary. Not everyone who has aches and pains requires a joint replacement, but seeing an orthopedist should be the starting point. If you’ve been using medications or assistants such as crutches or walkers to get around and they aren’t helping talk with a specialist.
Get an X-ray. These screens can show joint damage caused by osteoporosis, arthritis and other injuries. This will help your doctors determine if a joint replacement is needed.
I’ve completed more than 5,000 joint replacement surgeries. Over the years I’ve met many who were reluctant to have the procedure done. I understand that the fear of the unknown is a common reaction to this process. My response is this: imagine walking without pain, ditching your crutches or walker or being able to kneel down next to your pets without wincing. It’s possible.
The bottom line is you don’t have to be limited due to a joint issue. Go see a doctor, ask questions and improve your quality of life.
By Dr. John McCrosson, orthopedic surgeon with Charleston Hip and Knee Replacement Center