When I speak with other orthopedic doctors, one thing is clear—hip and knee replacement surgeries are on the rise. As the Boomer generation grows older, demand is growing for these increasingly common surgeries, according to a study presented at the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons’ annual meeting.
It’s obvious that there are many of us that are not so willing to give up our active lifestyle and leisure pursuits, so hip and knee replacement is going to be more prevalent as time goes on! So the question for many over the age of 55 is:
Is Surgery For You?
When people suffer from severe osteoarthritis, hip or knee replacement is often the best option to stay active longer. In over 70% of patients, implants replace joints that are damaged or worn out due to osteoarthritis. But many also have the same surgery performed due to fractures, injury trauma or rheumatoid arthritis. Although the average age of patients is 71 years old, the trend seems to be leaning toward younger and younger patients.
Undergoing a hip or knee replacement is a major decision for you and your doctor, so it may help to know that 82% of 1,001 patients surveyed by Consumer Reports were “very satisfied” or “completely satisfied” with their results.
As I tell my patients, however, recovery doesn’t happen overnight and may be painful. Of the people surveyed, the majority was able to cease taking pain medication after two months, but 12% were still taking it one year after surgery.
It is encouraging to know that 90% of patients could do everyday activities after one month. At the same time, it is important not to push your body too hard. In fact, one-third of hip patients and one-quarter of knee patients were unable to walk half a mile one year after their surgeries. While most people have success with replacement surgery, there is a small chance of infection, and complications, like weakened muscles and legs of unequal length, can occur.
Are There Less Drastic Alternatives?
It is true that a standard replacement gives most people the best possible results, but some alternatives are available:
Hip resurfacing – This procedure can help even severe arthritis sufferers by employing a smaller implant and removing less of the bone than standard replacement surgery.
Knee Osteotomy – Best for young, active patients, this surgery shifts pressure off of the weakest part of the joint. It is an option for people whose arthritis is located on only one side of the knee.
Partial knee replacement – This is a choice if you have limited osteoarthritis and involves resurfacing only one compartment of the knee.
Although hip or knee replacement—or the alternatives—is a big decision, it is important not to wait too long. If you have pain that makes it difficult to sleep and perform everyday tasks, and doesn’t respond to pain medication, you should see an orthopedic surgeon who will help you decide what course of action to take.
The good news is that joint replacements are improving, so chance of success is high, and patients can enjoy many years of freedom from aches and pains. There is no reason why you shouldn’t make your golden years as active and fulfilling as possible.
Mark Bromson, M.D.