7 signs you are a good candidate for joint replacement

Posted on: September 20th, 2013 by Dr. Mark Barba

1.  When pain limits your ability to move comfortably.

Simply that alone. Our ability to move dictates much of our overall health, physically and emotionally.

But not everyone who falls on a jog or whose body is aging and experiences some pain needs to rush in for a consultation and hope to have a new knee, hip, shoulder, you-name-it in a few months.

Joint replacement is a decision that needs careful consideration by you and your physician.

Maybe the pain has lasted for years, and your basic functionality has slowly deteriorated over time.  Maybe the pain in this situation does warrant a consultation, and you would be right to think so.

The details of the procedure will be discussed during your visit.  Remember to jot down your questions.

A qualified specialist will have done hundreds if not thousands of these and will know how to ground the visit to the important factors.

2. When the benefits of an operation outweigh the risks an operation entails.

You should know that surgery is not without its risks:

What could go wrong?  Plenty, but it should be rare that anything actually does go wrong. The best way to minimize risk is to receive a thorough evaluation by an experienced surgeon.

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Pneumonia
  • Blood Clots
  • Reaction to anesthesia
  • Blood vessel or nerve injury
  • Kneecap dislocation
  • Implant wear or loosening

You should ask your physician about these things.  What is his infection rate?  Is it below 1%?  It should be.

No surgeon considers an operation risk free.  The primary job is to minimize risks.  The patient must be optimized for the procedure and this can include stabilizing a patient’s diabetes, blood pressure and skin quality to mention a few.

But life is full of risks.  Driving a car down the road is also risky, yet people do it every day without problems, and cars certainly provide multiple benefits.

Think about the benefits of a knee replacement for example.

  • Increased functionality
  • Less pain
  • Higher productivity at work
  • Better ability to care for one’s self
  • Less stress because of pain and discomfort
  • Better sleep at night

Think about the benefits not only for your body physically, but also to your emotional state, your relationships, and your job.  All of these things will be positively affected by a joint replacement.

3. When all other options have been exhausted.

For an orthopedic surgeon, surgery is the last option.  That’s why it is important to exhaust other solutions first: prescription anti-inflammatory medication, cortisone injections, viscosupplementation therapy (essentially injecting joint fluid into the joint needing treatment), and physical therapy.

Ask about these options before considering joint replacement, and most likely, your physician will recommend one or more of these treatment pathways before suggesting joint replacement.

4. When you are medically safe.

What does medically safe mean exactly?  Well, that is a very individual question.  Your physician will assess your ability to undergo the surgery and make recommendations about health problems that need to be tackled prior to scheduling a surgery.

Also, having underlying medical problems is more the rule than the exception in this field of medicine.  Many patients needing joint replacement have a few more years on them, and an experienced joint replacement surgeon will be able to tell you if you are medically appropriate.

5. When pain limits your ability to have a restful night’s sleep.

Sleep is an important determiner of overall wellbeing. If simply moving in bed is uncomfortable it is worth getting an opinion.

6.  When you cannot keep up with your loved ones.

Again, notice the importance of social factors in determining the need for joint replacement.  Joint replacement focuses around your quality of life.

Can you no longer throw a ball with your son/grandson?  Can you not garden anymore because of excessive knee pain?

Have an honest discussion with yourself about the quality of your life and how it might change after a joint replacement.

If you do decide to consult a physician about possible joint replacement, discuss your quality of life concerns with them as well.

7. When you can no longer do your work or enjoy your hobbies.

This really goes along with point number six, except it brings in another important factor to consider: financial stability.  Joint pain should not harm your ability to financially provide for yourself or your family.

Remember that you are considering the procedure, not committing to anything. These visits can be used as fact-finding missions for you.  Many visits result in other, more conservative approaches such as physical therapy.

[quote]Surgery is always viewed as a last resort option.[/quote]

That’s important to remember:  surgery is a last resort.  If you visit a surgeon who wants to skip conservative treatment and move straight to surgery, make sure to ask why he/she wants to do that.  Maybe he has good reasons, but a red flag should pop up when you hear that.

Modern joint replacements are very durable and can restore a full functional range of movement.  Many patients can return to sporting activities.  The modern devices have come a long way from early designs that had serious limitations.

If you have experienced a joint replacement, what was the deciding factor?  Have questions? Please ask them!

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