Joint replacement surgery is typically recommended for patients with advanced end stage joint disease (usually of the knee or the hip) who have tried non-surgical treatment, but still experience functional decline and disabling pain. Joint replacement is an extremely effective surgery when done at the right time and indication.
Modern joint replacement surgery involves removal of the worn cartilage from both sides of the joint, followed by resurfacing of the joint with a metal and plastic replacement implant that looks and functions much like your normal joint. Although nearly every joint in the body can be replaced, most replacement surgeries involve the hip or knee.
Over the last 30 years, improved surgical techniques and new implant materials have been developed, making total joint replacement one of the most reliable and durable procedures in any area of medicine.
What determines the appropriateness of joint surgery?
Severe or “end-stage” arthritis can be caused by a variety of problems including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory joint problems, previous joint injuries and fractures, joint infections and other rare conditions. All of these problems result in damage to the different structures in the joint and eventually lead to significant irreversible damage and dysfunctional joint.
Certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory types of arthritis may be best treated by a rheumatologist, who specializes in the treatment of these disorders. More common joint problems like osteoarthritis are typically treated by a primary care doctor, rheumatologist, or orthopedic surgeon. When medical treatment for arthritis recommended by your doctor becomes less effective, joint replacement surgery may be an option for you. These professionals are better qualified to determine if joint replacement therapy is an appropriate treatment choice for you.
The definition of “appropriate” for total joint replacement surgery changes continuously. In general, there is no set upper age limit for joint replacement patients. Instead, the decision is perhaps best made based on your general medical condition and fitness for surgery, and how much your arthritis affects your quality of life.
Your need for joint replacement surgery can be minimized by comprehensive medical treatment of your arthritis. Arthritis medications, exercise modification to low impact activities (e.g. swimming, walking, biking, etc.), weight loss, nutritional supplements, and joint injections can help you live with your arthritis for as long as possible. When these treatments are no longer effective and you experience pain as well as decrease in function, joint replacement surgery can relieve the pain and restore the quality of life lost due to arthritis.