It’s a fact of life: As we get older, our joints get stiffer. But when a joint is damaged by arthritis or injury, the stiffness, swelling and pain can make it hard to perform simple everyday tasks like walking or picking things up off the floor. In the worst cases, pain can be constant, even when just sitting or lying down.
“With today’s advanced surgical techniques and technologies, the most painful, damaged joints can easily be replaced,” says Samuel Park, MD, a Harvard-Fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon and the medical director of total joint replacement at Mission Hospital. “And yet, many people who would benefit from joint replacement surgery don’t pursue it because they have misperceptions about the surgery.”
Dr. Park separates joint replacement myths from facts:
Knee replacement. Total knee replacement is one of the most successful procedures in medicine today. But there are a few things many people have misunderstandings about:
- “My knee will be totally replaced.” Despite its name, total knee replacement does not mean the entire knee will be replaced. It’s really more of a re-surfacing or re-finishing of the bones—not a complete replacement. “To draw an analogy, you can think of it like putting a crown on a tooth,” Dr. Park says.
- “I can still walk, so I don’t need surgery.” Mobility should not be the only decision factor, especially if you’re not getting around at your normal speed. If constant pain and stiffness are interfering with your daily activity and keeping you up at night, it may be time for knee replacement.
- “My knee will be as good as new.” Most people who have knee replacement surgery get back to their everyday activities – but that may take some time. And if you’ve had knee replacement surgery, you’ll need to take care of your new knee. Surgeons generally advise against high-impact exercise such as jogging. However, almost all patients will be able to completely straighten the replaced knee and do low-impact activities such as swimming and walking—not to mention being able to climb the stairs again.
Hip replacement. Dr. Park says patients also have a lot of misconceptions about hip surgery. He sets the record straight.
- “Hip replacements only last a few years.” “Many people are fearful that their new hip will only last 10 or 15 years—then they’ll have to go through the whole procedure again,” Dr. Park says. In fact, there is now over a 90% chance that a hip replacement will last more than 15 years—and an 80% chance it will last over 25 years. Of course, the more you take care of the new hip, the longer it will last.
- “I’m too young or too old for hip replacement.” While age is certainly a factor, the main question should be whether hip replacement would improve your mobility and reduce your pain, allowing you to lead a more normal life. “If you’re immobilized by a worn-out joint, you’re planning your life around your pain,” Dr. Park says. “When you get your mobility back, you get your quality of life back. It’s so rewarding to see our patients benefit from the latest advances and minimally invasive techniques in total joint replacement and get back to doing the things they love.”
If you have chronic hip or knee pain—and other therapies like anti-inflammatory medications aren’t working—ask your doctor about whether joint replacement is a good option for you. You may have more to gain than you realize.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.