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Knowing When Joint Replacement Surgery is Necessary 

In Brief

  • Most candidates for knee and hip replacement surgery originally suffer from ongoing pain or stiffness in those joints that keeps them up at night and makes walking difficult.
  • Before considering surgery, orthopedic surgeons will typically try conservative treatments such as anti-inflammatory medications, ice, physical therapy and injections to lubricate the joint.
  • Crozer-Keystone orthopedic surgeons offer the latest joint replacement technologies and surgical options.
  • In most cases, the benefits of joint replacement far outweigh any risks.

Severe arthritis can be painful and debilitating, and millions of Americans struggle with this discomfort on a daily basis. If you are among those that suffer from hip or knee pain, you might eventually start considering options, such as total joint replacement. But how do you know when it’s the right time for surgery?

“The easiest way to answer the question about when a patient needs a hip or knee replacement is to talk about my own story,” says Stuart Gordon, M.D., co-chief of the Section of Orthopedic Surgery at Taylor Hospital. Gordon says he found himself on the other side of the consulting room when significant aching and pain in his right hip escalated for the past year and a half to the point where he could feel it with each step he took. 

“When pain or stiffness in the joint keeps someone up at night or makes walking difficult, it’s a good chance that they have arthritis,” says Jeffrey Malumed, M.D., co-chief of the Section Orthopedic Surgery at Taylor Hospital. “We will almost always try conservative treatments such as anti-inflammatory medications, ice, physical therapy and injections to lubricate the joint. But if these don’t work, we will think about joint replacement.”

Doctors stress that it’s important to get checked out early on. “If you catch it early, you can really do a lot to maintain your joint before resorting to a replacement,” says Nicholas DiNubile M.D., chief of the Section of Orthopedic Surgery at Delaware County Memorial Hospital.

“In some cases, the joints are so bad by the time they are X-rayed that they won’t respond to conventional therapy and will need to be replaced promptly,” Malumed says. “But usually people can wait a year or so before surgery.”

An ideal candidate is about 60 years old and in good health, says Frank Giammattei, M.D., chief of the Division of Orthopedic Surgery at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. “We will do surgeries on people who are much younger and people who are 85. But if people have other health problems, we have to explain the risks and benefits to them,” Giammattei says. 

DiNubile says that in most cases, the benefits of joint replacement far outweigh any risks. “The important thing is that people need to be educated and take the time to understand the surgery in advance. Attending a joint class like we have at the hospital can help you have the proper expectations going in,” he says.

The good news is that joint replacements are more accessible than ever. “In the past 20 years there has been an explosion of innovative technologies for hip and knee replacements that allow us to treat more people with advanced arthritis,” Gordon says.

With a range of technologies available, there are numerous options for treatment. “We have top-notch doctors with a specialty in both joint replacement and joint preservation here in the Crozer-Keystone Health System,” DiNubile says. “We’re doing pretty remarkable things these days, including lubricant injections, cartilage regeneration surgeries to restore a damaged joint, and our knee and hip joint replacement systems are highly successful.”

Because he’s very active in sports such as ice hockey, rowing and golf, Gordon knew he needed to get a hip replacement done sooner rather than later. He scheduled a Birmingham hip resurfacing replacement on his own right hip for this past spring. “It’s actually pretty simple,” he says. “When the pain is interfering in the activities you love, it’s time to think about joint replacement.”

To learn more about joint replacement or to request an appointment with a physician of the Premier/Crozer-Keystone Orthopedics Partnership, call 1-877-CK-MOTION.

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