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Is it Time to Consider Joint Replacement?

It hurts. Your knee just doesn’t seem to bend like it once did, and every time walk up some steps, yeah … there’s that pain again. Medication and physical therapy will help, but eventually the time may come for surgery – out with the old joint and in with a new one.

What causes this pain? Most often it’s some variation of arthritic inflammation generally caused by joint damage or age. Usually, this joint pain can’t be cured, only managed. The only way to make that elbow or knee work the way it once did is to replace it. But when is the right time to do that?

“You’ll know,” says Lehigh Valley Health Network orthopedic surgeon Prodromos Ververeli, MD, with LVPG Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, who specializes in knee and hip replacement. “When you have persistent pain in a joint for more than a month and it’s affecting your life regardless of what you do to ease the discomfort, it’s probably time to see a qualified orthopedist.”

Replacement surgery for the knee or hip is indeed a drastic measure and should be viewed as the final option in the joint pain journey. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases recommends exhausting conservative treatments first, such as pain medication, staying fit and reducing activities that cause the joint pain. Most people who undergo joint replacements are 60 years old or older, and have gone that route because of a lifetime of wear and tear. But if the joint damage is significant enough, people of any age can be joint replacement candidates.

When is the time? Ververeli has a quick checklist that might help you decide:

  • Has the pain become more difficult to tolerate?
  • Are normal movements more difficult for you?
  • Are you compensating by limping?
  • Is there a clear weakness in the joint?
  • Is it affecting you at work?
  • Is it affecting you in your recreational activities?

Results of the surgery are good to excellent for more than 90 percent of patients, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Those patients report they are able to return to normal activities free of pain.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to do things you’ve always done again without the burden of pain or loss of motion,” Ververeli says. “Joint replacement can do that for you.”