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A joint replacement can be the ultimate pain reliever

When it comes to a joint replacement, even the Piano Man needed a tune-up. Billy Joel recently said it took a double hip replacement to make him feel “hip” again.

Although he was joking, moving around freely again without pain can make you feel like a new person.

Out with the Old, In with the New

If you’ve tried everything short of surgery to relieve your constant, nagging joint pain, it may be time for a joint replacement. Total joint replacement is one of the safest and most reliable treatments, and the results can last 10-15 years or longer.

If you are considering the procedure, you’re in good company. According to the American College of Rheumatology, there are over 790,000 total knee replacements and over 450,000 hip replacements are performed annually in the U.S. This number continues to grow as larger populations, such as Baby Boomers, reach the age where their joints wear out.

Attitudes are changing, too. In the past, people would get joint replacements to help them do things they needed to do – like walk. Today, people have the procedure to help them continue to do the things they want to do – like stay active and travel.

Joint Replacement 101

A joint replacement (also known as arthroplasty) means removing part or all of a damaged joint and replacing it with hardware (called a prosthesis) to allow the limb to move without pain or limitations. A prosthesis can be made of plastic, metal, ceramic or a combination of these materials. Most joint replacements are performed to treat damage from arthritis to the knees or hips. Orthopedic surgeons do the procedure under general anesthesia or a spinal anesthetic, depending on the patient preference and history of prior back issues.

Joint Pain Affects More Than Just Joints

For people in chronic pain, it’s more than just bad knees or sore hips.

“Pain in a joint can affect both your physical and mental health,” said Nicole Meschbach, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the Adena Orthopedic and Spine Institute. “Knees and hips are both weight-bearing joints, so you feel pain with every step. Pain can make you feel lonely and misunderstood because no one can truly understand what you’re feeling. Alleviating joint pain can have a major impact on your overall wellbeing.” 

Questions to Consider

If you are wondering whether you are a candidate for a joint replacement, ask yourself: 

  • Is my joint pain limiting my ability to do things in life that make life worth living?
  • Is the thought of going to a grocery store out of the question for fear the pain will be worse afterward?
  • Am I having more bad days than good days?
  • Are the things that were helping the pain becoming less helpful?

If any of these sounds like you, it’s the right time to consider joint replacement.

Recovery Concerns

If you’re putting off a joint replacement because you dread recovering from surgery, talk to your doctor. In nearly all cases, the benefits far outweigh the temporary disadvantages.

After surgery, you will feel some pain. Depending on the type of procedure you have, you may be able to go home the day of surgery, but you may need to stay in the hospital for a few days.  

Everyone recovers differently from joint replacement. Your recovery will depend on several factors, such as:  

  • Your activity level and lifestyle
  • Age
  • What joint was replaced
  • Other health conditions or orthopedic issues

    For most people, physical therapy (PT) will help them recover faster and more safely. PT strengthens the muscles around the replaced joint and helps better support the new joint. These exercises will also increase your flexibility and help you get moving again with more confidence.

Joint Replacements in Women

Knees and hips wear out regardless of gender. However, arthritis is the leading cause of joint replacements. Because women have higher rates of arthritis, more joint replacements are performed on women.

“Women usually have more severe osteoarthritis and worse symptoms,” said Dr. Meschbach. “Despite this information, women are three times less likely to undergo joint replacement surgery than men. This highlights a need to ensure appropriate patient education so everyone can receive treatment in a well-timed manner.”

Less Pain, More Gain

Joint replacement surgery has changed considerably in the last 10 years. There are improved methods for pain control and anesthesia before, during and after surgery. Patients are feeling better earlier and feeling more confident to recover safely at home.

With a new joint, you'll hurt less. You could even be pain-free. Depending on your age, you may be able to use your joint normally and return to a full range of motion, making everyday tasks a lot easier.