Many orthopaedic surgeons out there are quick to jump to surgery as a solution. Although I am a surgeon, I believe surgery only should be done when necessary and as a last resort. I prefer to try conservative care methods before recommending surgery to my patients, especially when it comes to total joint replacements.
There are definitely times when total joint replacements are the best option, and in those situations patients’ lives can be changed for the better. I’m going to lay out the pros and cons of total joint replacements so that you can decide whether now is really the right time for you get a joint replaced.
- Repeat Customer. While joint replacements can be life-changing, they don’t last forever. If you replace your knee when you are forty, you will likely need another knee replacement when you’re fifty. It’s better to wait as long as possible before deciding on surgery. By waiting, you may not need another replacement, and you get more advanced technology.
- Plastic Debris. As you probably know, plastics take a very long time to break down naturally. When it comes to joint replacements, the artificial joint is made from metal and plastic, and as they rub together, plastic debris starts to collect in the joint. Both obesity and an active lifestyle can cause the plastic to wear out even faster.
Once the plastic starts to collect, the body recognizes it as a foreign invader, sending white blood cells to break it down. Because the plastic can’t be broken down, the white blood cells end up attacking the surrounding bone. Therefore, when it is time to replace the plastic joint, your doctor will also have to replace the bone. This is a complicated surgery that neither me or my patients ever enjoy.
- Possible Infection. Although we take great precautions to prevent infections, on rare occasions a replacement joint can become infected. I only mention this because there’s a slight possibly, but we go to great lengths to try to ensure this doesn’t happen.
- Relief. If you are suffering from debilitating joint pain that makes it hard to walk or climb stairs, it might be time for a total joint replacement. This surgery can provide relief from the symptoms of severe degenerative arthritis.
- Staying Active. Total joint replacements can help you stay active into retirement, especially if knee or hip pain is holding you back. You can resume your normal activities and live pain-free with better mobility.
- The Sweet Spot. Believe it or not, there is an ideal time to have a joint replaced. If you are still strong enough to undergo the surgery but might not be if you wait five or ten years, then it’s time! Consider whether or not this will improve the rest of your life﹘ if the answer is a resounding “yes!” then it might be the perfect time.
Our ability to replace hip and knee joints is amazing. These surgeries are safe and effective and can give people a new lease on life. Once you’ve made the decision to move forward with the surgery, talk to your primary care physician about the steps you need to take to prepare. It’s important to be in the best health possible before the surgery.
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