F. Johannes Plate, MD, PhD, is an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in total hip replacement, partial knee replacement, and total knee replacement. Here, Dr. Plate discusses osteoarthritis, one of the most common types of arthritis.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the wear and tear of the joint due to cartilage loss, and it is the most common form of arthritis. There are four stages that signify cartilage loss. At stage 1, you may experience some arthritis, but it can get worse if you progress to stage 4 where there is significant cartilage loss inside the joint.

When this happens, bone can rub on bone. While osteoarthritis can cause damage to any joint, this type of arthritis most commonly affects joints in your knees, hips, hands, and spine.

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What are Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?

Typically, the first symptom individuals notice is joint pain and swelling. Individuals with osteoarthritis may find that daily activities like going up and down stairs, rising from a chair, or pivoting left to right when playing sports, are painful. Often, the discomfort goes away with medications and rest. But if the pain stays and you feel your joints stiffening, or if you start to limp, those are early signs that you may have a chronic condition.

This is when we encourage you to schedule an appointment with an orthopaedic provider.

What are Treatment Options?

Keep in mind that surgery is always the last resort. Once it is determined that you are living with osteoarthritis, we will discuss nonsurgical, or conservative treatment options.

Conservative treatment options include:

  • Spending time outside to receive vitamin D or taking vitamin D supplements.
  • Home exercises and physical therapy.
  • Wearing a brace or using a cane.
  • Medications and injections, including topical creams.

Lifestyle changes to help manage the effects of osteoarthritis include:

  • Implementing physical activity into your daily routine, such as light walking, light cycling, swimming, water aerobics, and yoga.
  • Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet with vegetables and fruit.
  • Quitting smoking.

When Should I Consider Surgery?

If you continue to have pain after trying conservative treatment options and the joint pain has become a disability, we can discuss surgery. Under the guidance of your orthopaedic provider, the decision for a hip or knee replacement is completely up to you, and so is the timing.

Be sure to talk to your doctor about your expectations and ask questions such as: What do you expect to get back to? What pain relief are you expecting from the surgery? We will make a care plan that is designed to safely get you back to doing what you love.

Am I a Candidate for Same-Day Discharge after Surgery?

You may be eligible for same-day discharge if:

  • You are in good health and do not have heart or kidney conditions.
  • You generally get around well at home despite the pain that you may have in your hip or knee.
  • You have help at home for the first few days after surgery.
  • You meet discharge requirements, including being able to move with minimal assistance after completing standardized physical therapy exercises.

How Long is the Recovery Time for Hip and Knee Replacements?

Recovery varies by person and procedure and is usually six to eight weeks to have marked improvements in pain and function and three to six months for full recovery. Your recovery includes physical therapy postoperatively to help with range of motion, gait, and to improve the strength in your knee or hip. Physical therapy is imperative to make sure you gain the range of motion back that you have lost from the osteoarthritis.

As far as life after joint replacement, we want you to get back to your desired activities. Mostly that is low impact activities, such as cycling, swimming, walking, and light jogging. Most importantly, we want you to be able to move freely and without pain in your daily life.

Osteoarthritis Care, Closer to Home

Dr. Plate is an associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He has published more than 100 journal articles and book chapters about adult reconstruction and has presented research at national and international conferences. He teaches the anterior hip surgical approach he uses to other surgeons across the country.

Patients can see Dr. Plate at UPMC at Oxford Drive in Monroeville and at UPMC Shadyside. For more information on osteoarthritis, or to schedule an appointment at UPMC at Oxford Drive, call 412-858-0380. To schedule an appointment at UPMC Shadyside, call 412-802-4100.

About UPMC Orthopaedic Care

When you are dealing with bone, muscle, or joint pain, it can affect your daily life. UPMC Orthopaedic Care can help. As a national leader in advanced orthopaedic care, we diagnose and treat a full range of musculoskeletal disorders, from the acute and chronic to the common and complex. We provide access to UPMC’s vast network of support services for both surgical and nonsurgical treatments and a full continuum of care. Our multidisciplinary team of experts will work with you to develop the treatment plan that works best for you. Our care team uses the most innovative tools and techniques to provide better outcomes. We also are leaders in research and clinical trials, striving to find better ways to provide our patients care. With locations throughout our communities, you can find a provider near you.