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Joint Replacement: When Do You Need It?

03/05/2022 | 5 min. read

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Joint pain can impact nearly every facet of your life, from getting up in the morning to going to bed at night. Although issues with the joints can be a regular part of the aging process, sometimes it comes time to decide whether to pursue a joint replacement.

While it is ultimately a decision you should make with the help of your medical provider, the healthcare experts at Healthy Directions want to give you all of the details you need to feel fully informed.

When you have the information you need, you can make the most educated decision possible and be your own best advocate.

What Is Joint Replacement?

Joint replacement, such as a partial knee replacement, is just what it sounds like — the surgical process of removing either part of or the entirety of a damaged joint. Once the surgeon has removed the joint (or a portion of the joint), they replace it with hardware to allow it to move without pain or limitation on mobility. The hardware that goes into the joint to replace the original is known medically as a prosthesis.

Joint replacement prostheses come in a variety of materials, including ceramic, metal, and plastic. Some are a combination of materials, depending on which is strong enough for the area being replaced.

Joint replacement surgeries like knee replacement surgery, hip replacement surgery, or total joint replacement surgery are typically performed under general anesthesia, which means you will be completely asleep during the procedure. Surgery length depends on where the replacement is needed and the extent of damage to the joint and socket. However, most last between 60 to 90 minutes.

After surgery, patients often stay in the hospital for a day or two. That hospital stay is followed by physical therapy, which commonly lasts for at least a few months. However, when surgery is successful, and patients stick with the post-surgical plan of care, joint replacement hardware can last around 20 years on average.

Why Are Joint Replacements Performed?

Joint replacements are done to help treat pain and limited mobility, but those issues can result from many different conditions. Most commonly, orthopedic surgeons and nurses perform joint replacements on the knees and hips due to the damage done due to osteoarthritis. However, full or partial joint replacements can also be done on other joints, including the wrists, ankles, elbows, and shoulders.

The recommendation for having a joint replacement performed often comes after looking at two factors — the amount of pain you are in and the severity of the damage done to the affected joint.

Testing and diagnosis of both components need to be performed by your healthcare provider. Joint replacement surgeries are also a last resort, and surgeons are not likely to perform them for more minor complaints.

That often means that the surgical candidate must have “failed” more conservative therapies and treatment, including physical therapy, pain medication, and activity modifications.

What Are Signs You May Need a Joint Replacement?

The number one sign that you may need a joint replacement is pain. But just having joint pain is not always enough to warrant invasive surgery. Most people decide whether or not joint replacement surgery is worth it based on how much that pain impacts their day-to-day lives.

In addition, healthcare professionals have a few other criteria that may lean toward a joint replacement being necessary to maintain quality of life.

  • Your joint pain impacts your life in such a way that you have trouble performing your routine, daily activities.
  • Your pain has become significant enough to wake you up during the night, is not helped with pain medication (either over-the-counter or prescription), or is unable to be eased with non-surgical interventions.
  • The joint pain you are experiencing is impacting you mentally and emotionally as well as physically.
  • You have significantly damaged cartilage or advanced arthritis in the joints.

Ultimately, the symptoms you are having will need to be severe enough to outweigh the potential risks of surgical treatments and length of recovery time.

Infection of the incision site, loosening or dislocation of prosthetics, and blood clots are just a few of the complications that are possible post-surgically. It is also crucial to keep in mind that your body will not be back to what it was when you were younger, even after a total hip replacement or knee joint replacement.

What Else Can You Do To Help With Joint Pain?

Joint replacement surgery may be beneficial, but it also comes with significant downtime needed to recover from swelling and stiffness. Assistive devices, like a walker or crutches, are commonly used. For many people, this means that they want to be sure that they have exhausted all of their other non-surgical treatment possibilities before scheduling a surgical date.

Range of motion exercises can help keep your joints as flexible and mobile as possible, and a physical therapist can help you perform these safely. Even just five minutes a day can make a difference in your muscles and joints.

To perform a range of motions exercises at home, remember to move slowly and stop if you feel any pain. These exercises are very similar to stretching and can be done with any joint in the body.

There is also a potential connection between joint pain and the gut. Researchers have already discovered the gut-skin axis, which makes microbial imbalances visible on the skin’s surface. The same premise may also apply to the way that issues with the gut can impact the joints. Leaky gut syndrome, in particular, may have systemic implications.

To reduce the potential for those complications, it may be worthwhile to use a probiotic to ensure you have the right flora in the right places.

Maintaining a healthy weight can also help take some pressure off your joints, leading to a potential decrease in pain. Losing weight is one of the best things you can do not only for your joints but for your health in general.

In Summary

Joint replacement surgery is often the only way to resolve significant joint pain. However, identifying when you are at the point that surgery is necessary can help you feel more confident in scheduling your surgical date.

Having options to help minimize joint pain and improve flexibility and mobility can also be beneficial. Healthy Directions wants you to be empowered when making medical decisions, and we are here to help you with any health and wellness-related concerns you may have.

Sources:

Functional outcome of total knee replacement: a study protocol for a prospective, double-blinded, parallel-group randomized, clinical controlled trial of novel, personalized and conventional implants | PubMed (nih.gov)

What's New in Hip Replacement | JBJS

Gut–Skin Axis: Current Knowledge of the Interrelationship between Microbial Dysbiosis and Skin Conditions | PubMed (nih.gov)

Healthy Directions Staff Editor