As we age, our joints may wear out. While we may not be eager to have a joint replacement, it may be helpful to understand how to know when it’s time to talk to an orthopedic surgeon about our options. These are some of the common questions we hear from our patients.
- I don’t want to have surgery yet. What can I do in the meantime for my pain?
We recommend using oral or topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), getting adequate exercise (including physical therapy) and talking to your provider about what lifestyle changes you can make, given your specific situation and overall health. Ibuprofen or a NSAID prescription from your provider can relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
- When is the right time to have surgery for my joint pain?
The best time is when you have significant pain with activity and the pain causes you to avoid activities you enjoy. Also, if you have tried the other ways of managing pain (such as physical therapy, medication and injections) and they are no longer working, it may be time to consider surgery.
- What is the recovery like after a joint replacement?
Everyone is different. However, the general timeline for recovery goes like this. After the surgery, weightbearing is encouraged. Physical therapy begins while you’re in the hospital or in the first week after surgery. Walkers or canes may be used for two to three weeks – with walking unassisted by the sixth week. Most patients return to their full activity without restrictions by three months.
- Am I healthy enough to undergo total joint replacement?
Before you are scheduled for surgery, there are some health factors we review and attempt to optimize. They include having an A1c of less than 7.4 (if you have diabetes), having a body mass index of less than 40, having stopped smoking for six weeks leading up to surgery and having stopped drinking alcohol for four weeks leading up to surgery (if you are a heavy drinker). Other health areas we monitor are hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), malnutrition and anemia. Managing these health concerns are important for reducing your risk of infection or other complications and of speeding your recovery time.
- My friend had a knee replacement and it still hurts. How do I know this won’t happen to me?
Patient expectations are important. If your pain level is 8 or higher on a scale of 1 to 10, after surgery it should go down to a 2 or 3. It’s not realistic to have no pain after surgery. Some patients have difficulty with instability, infection or implant failure. If your friend is still having significant pain after the surgery, they may want to talk to their physician to explore whether something can be done.
- What do I do if my joint replacement becomes painful?
If your joint replacement becomes painful, talk to your provider. We can determine the source of your pain with blood work, additional imaging or removing fluid from the space around the joint using a needle and syringe. The information we gain helps us make further recommendations about how to reduce your pain.
- How long will my new joint last?
Most older implants will last 10-15 years. However, we expect the new implants with improved plastic components to last well over 15 years and hopefully much longer as technology continues to progress and improve longevity of implants.
At Goshen Physicians Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, we’re committed to working with you to explore all non-surgical options before recommending a joint replacement. Only you know how long you’ve lived with your pain and how much longer you are willing and able to tolerate it.
Kyle Carlson, DO, is an orthopedic surgeon with Goshen Physicians Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. He is fellowship trained in adult reconstruction orthopedic surgery and specializes in total joint replacement of hips and knees. Dr. Carlson has advanced training and experience in treating complex cases. He specializes in adult revisions to joint replacements and treatment for conditions caused by degenerative diseases, including arthritis.