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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Is it time for joint replacement?

Jul 02, 2019 02:15PM ● By Dr. Kevin Borchard, Colorado Advanced Ortopedics, Sports Medicine & Spine

Total or partial surgical replacement of damaged or diseased knee and hip joints has become a common medical procedure in modern-day America. Over 1 million total joint replacement surgeries are performed annually in the U.S., and this number is expected to increase to nearly 4 million by 2030. Why is that?

Because it works.

Total joint arthroplasty is one of the most cost-effective and successful interventions in medicine. And with recent advances in robotic arm assisted technology, joint replacement surgery has become more precise and less invasive, providing more positive long-term outcomes than ever before.

How do I know it's right for me?

Joint replacement surgery is usually indicated when a knee or hip joint is worn or damaged to the extent that your mobility is reduced, and you experience pain even while resting. The most common reason for joint replacement surgery is osteoarthritis, the degeneration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone. It develops over time and can sneak up on you.

There are many causes of osteoarthritis including sports injuries, traumatic injuries and obesity. Other conditions that cause joint damage include rheumatoid and inflammatory arthritis.

Once you begin to experience symptoms, the damage is already done. Here are some signs you shouldn’t ignore:

• Pain with activity. When pain that comes on with activity limits what you can do.

• Delayed pain. Pain that comes on after activity, also known as “payback pain,” can be a warning that your knee or hip isn’t performing as it should.

• Pain that interrupts sleep. If pain in your knee or hip joints prevents you from falling asleep, or you wake up because of pain caused by movements during sleep.

• Visual changes. The way your knee looks can be just as important as the way it feels. Changes in the appearance of your knee can be a sign of inflammation. Swelling or redness of your leg, or an appearance that looks markedly different from the other are clear signs that you have a problem that is probably not going to go away on its own.

• Limited movement. Difficulty sitting down because your knee refuses to bend is a common sign of osteoarthritis. Seizing or catching of the joint during movement can also indicate advanced deterioration or that a loose bone fragment has become lodged in the joint.

• Lifestyle limitations. Whether you want to take a long hike, play golf or simply mow the lawn, any symptom that prevents or limits your ability to do the things you love is cause for concern.

With a little help, a bad joint doesn’t have to impact your quality of life. Ultimately, the decision to consider joint replacement is up to you. If you can live with the pain in your knee or hip and it’s not drastically affecting your quality of life, it may not be time for a surgical solution. Before you go that route, know there are other treatments that can help relieve your systems.

Treatments before surgery

Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help fight inflammation, and stronger anti-inflammatory drugs are available by prescription. Corticosteroid injections, also called cortisone shots, fight inflammation and can offer fast pain relief that can last up to several months. Exercise and physical therapy can also help.

A qualified physical therapist can design a proper program for you and prescribe supportive braces, splints or canes if necessary. If you’re overweight, weight loss can help, as every pound you gain puts an extra three pounds of pressure on your knees, and if you eventually need knee replacement surgery, your chances of success are much greater if you first lose the extra weight.

Some people have found relief through nutritional supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin. Studies have had mixed results in regards to success, and before you start taking any supplements—even if they’re natural—tell your doctor so he or she can check for any side effects.

These treatment options may provide enough relief to keep you moving comfortably and relatively pain-free. If they don’t, or become less effective over time, it may be time to consider surgery. 

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