Almost all of us will face achy hips, knees, ankles, fingers, or shoulders as we grow older, and many of us will consider joint replacements as the pain gets worse.
After all, artificial joints have become common, with more than 780,000 Americans a year now getting them. But a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon tells Newsmax Health that joint replacement surgery should be a last resort.
Robert G. Marx, M.D., author of The ACL Solution, says the agony of arthritis is what drives most people to get to artificial joints.
“In general, it’s best to resolve the pain of arthritis without surgery if possible,” he says. “Often this can be achieved with anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, steroid treatment, and/or viscosupplement injections.”
Viscosupplementation is injection of a gel-like substance into a joint to lubricate it, reducing pain and inflammation.
“Replacement should not be considered unless these treatments are ineffective,” Dr. Marx said.
So exactly when is replacement in order? Dr. Marx said, “Joint replacement is necessary when the patient’s symptoms limit their ability to enjoy their lives.”
Experts warn that when replacement actually becomes necessary, it shouldn't be delayed. Chicago-based orthopedic surgeon Dr. Richard Berger, who replaced actor George Hamilton’s knee several years back, says that many people with joint pain try to “tough it out,” to the detriment of their health and lifestyle.
“Most patients wait too long to get help,” he tells Newsmax Health. “They endure the pain and limited mobility caused by arthritis because they are afraid of the pain of the surgery or cannot afford the down time. Nowadays, with minimally invasive surgical techniques, you can be out of the hospital the same day.”
Dr. Berger offers warning signs that joints need replacing, starting with the hip. He says that the first sign that your hip is deteriorating is groin pain.
“At first, many people think they have a groin pull that won’t go away,” he explains. “Activity triggers the pain, which usually remains in the groin and upper thigh. Over time the pain worsens and can become constant. In addition, the hip becomes stiff. Many sufferers complain about difficulty putting on socks and shoes as mobility worsens. Finally, the pain and stiffness can affect other joints such as the knee and particularly the lower back.”
Knee arthritis often starts with a vague feeling of stiffness or soreness, usually in the inner knee. Again, says Dr. Berger, activity triggers the pain, which may spread throughout the knee.
“Over time the pain worsens and can become constant, often becoming severe enough to wake people at night,” he says. “The knee may eventually become visually deformed, resulting in a knock-knee or bowlegged appearance.”
Dr. Marx adds that in the case of shoulder deterioration, one of the most common signs is the inability to use your arms for daily activities such as dressing or carrying objects.
“Joint replacement alleviates pain while restoring function and mobility,” Dr. Berger says. “It is intended to get patients back to enjoying their lives and activities. My patients return to playing golf within two weeks, doubles tennis in a month, and skiing after six weeks. I have one patient who ran a full marathon just two months after her hip replacement while another patient won his division in the world triathlon championships after his surgery.”
The bottom line: It’s time to consider joint replacement if the pain can no longer be controlled by medication or therapy and it is affecting your daily life.
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