Worn-out, arthritic knee and hip joints can become so painful that simple actions like walking, bending or standing up become unbearable. But with the introduction of high-mileage artificial hip and knee joints, millions of former sufferers have reclaimed active, normal lives.
Make no mistake: Surgery to replace a deteriorated hip or knee is a major operation. In many cases, it’s also an elective procedure not covered by health insurance. But because today’s artificial joints last as long as 20 years, an estimated 420,000 patients undergo hip and knee replacements each year.
Not long ago, if you were older than 65, most doctors would advise against replacement surgery. They were concerned that the rigors of a major operation and rehabilitation could be overwhelming.
Nowadays, both older and younger adults are eligible for joint replacement surgery. Many patients say the procedure gives them significant pain relief and much more mobility.
Your overall health and the condition of your joints will help you decide if you’re suitable for a hip or knee replacement. Start by answering some questions:
Are you still in pain even after losing excess weight?
- Does your pain keep you awake nights?
- Does your pain interfere with your ability to earn a living?
- Has your quality of life suffered because of your pain—your ability to travel, perform household chores or visit with friends or family?
- Have you exhausted all your other options, including anti-inflammatory drugs to alleviate joint pain, walking with a cane, power-walking or swimming instead of jogging?
If surgery is still your best option, your doctor will help you select an artificial knee or hip that’s best suited for your age, activity level and expectations.
Following the operation, expect to be on your feet—using crutches, of course—the day after surgery and discharged within five days. As you recuperate, physical therapists will guide your movements so you don’t accidentally dislocate the replacement. And your doctor will probably prescribe blood thinners to prevent clots.
Barring the unforeseen, you should be walking unassisted six weeks later. And though grueling workouts like singles tennis or 10-mile runs may still be too tough for artificial hips and knees, make plans to resume long-lost activities like dancing, touring museums or strolling on the beach within six months.