People are living longer than ever, and many of us want to remain active later in life. All those years of activity can wear on our bodies, especially our joints. While minor pain and aches are normal, if you have long-lasting pain or pain that causes you to make lifestyle changes, talk to your provider. It may be arthritis.
Arthritis is a general term for conditions that affect the joints and surrounding tissues. Its most common form is osteoarthritis, which occurs when the cartilage that cushions joints breaks down, causing bones to rub together. The main symptoms of arthritis — joint pain, swelling, and stiffness — typically worsen with age.
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Do I Need Joint Replacement Surgery?
“Joint replacement surgery may be helpful for those with serious knee and hip pain,” says Kyle Hubler, DO, an orthopaedic surgeon with UPMC in North Central Pa., who specializes in total hip and knee replacements. Surgeons perform more than 600,000 knee replacements and 300,000 total hip replacements in the United States each year.
Chronic pain doesn’t have to be a daily part of your life. Treatment for arthritis starts with nonsurgical options, including:
- Braces or other supports
- Anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen or naproxen
- Heat and ice
- Corticosteroid, hyaluronic acid, or platelet-rich plasma joint injections
- Physical therapy
These treatments can provide temporary relief, but they don’t solve the underlying problem. Some people suffer with pain, swelling, or stiffness for years before considering surgery. Others see a provider when mechanical symptoms — buckling, clicking, grinding, or limping — get worse. These symptoms can cause long-term damage to the joint. They also present safety issues such as falls at home or at work, which can lead to other problems. When pain prevents you from living the life you want to live, surgery may be the answer.
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What Should I Expect With Surgery and Recovery?
Hospital stays for joint replacement surgery average only a day or two. Factors that affect your recovery include your overall health — your condition before surgery, age, medical history, and other risk factors — and how fast you progress with physical therapy. Some patients may go home the same day as their surgery.
Fear of pain from surgery is one of the biggest reasons people avoid having a hip or a knee replacement. People experience pain differently, but there have been significant advances in the way we help patients manage pain. By using medicines that work on the spinal cord and brain, we can control pain with smaller doses and fewer side effects. The good news is that postoperative pain will improve daily, which is better than suffering through a lifetime of arthritis pain.
When Will I Be Back to Normal?
Recovery times can vary. It’s good to get moving as soon as possible, so physical therapy usually begins the day after surgery. You should expect to use crutches or a walker until your doctor decides you can walk unassisted.
Even though the skin incision will heal in a few weeks, the healing process can take up to a year. Studies show that about 8 out of 10 people who have a hip or knee replacement are pain free within a year.
As active an adult, you may be concerned about missing work for your surgery and recovery. If you have a sedentary job or can perform your job with minimal movement and lifting, you may be able to return to work within 6 weeks. If you have a labor-intensive job, it could be 3 months before you are ready for any physically demanding tasks or heavy lifting.
Joint replacement is the best option for patients who want to go back to an active, pain-free life. No one has to live a life limited by pain. With a new hip or knee, you can return to favorite activities like walking, swimming, biking, playing with your grandchildren, golfing, fishing, or hunting. If joint replacement surgery sounds like the right choice for you, talk to your doctor or an orthopaedic specialist. They’ll help you weigh the benefits and risks and put you on the path to living with joints that work for you.
Kyle Hubler, DO, is an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in total hip and knee replacements at UPMC in North Central Pa. Dr. Hubler sees patients at UPMC’s orthopaedic clinics in Lewisburg, Muncy, and Williamsport. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Hubler, call 570-321-2020. For more information on joint replacement surgery at UPMC, visit UPMC.com/OrthoNCPA.
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.