When to Consider Joint Replacement
When your knees ache or your hips throb you can’t get to your medicine cabinet fast enough. But before you pop another over-the-counter or prescription pain pill, you need to ask yourself one important question…
How is This Pain Affecting My Life?
“Sometimes pain medication or cortisone shots is all patients need for pain relief,” says OrthopedistCharles Turek, M.D. “But when patients see me and they’re limping or having trouble getting in and out of a chair then we take a closer look.”
Who Needs Joint Replacement
Dr. Turek looks at x-rays of the affected joint and assesses a patient’s functional impairment. That’s your ability to complete what physical therapists call activities of daily living.
“We need to have a history and a physical examination to give us an idea of how a joint is functioning,” says Dr. Turek. “Some people have minimal arthritis which doesn’t look too bad on x-ray, yet they have a lot of trouble getting around. Other people with terrible looking x-rays get around well.”
Dr. Turek treats some patients with knee or hip arthritis for years using nothing more than pain medication and injections before he recommends joint replacement.
Surgery and Recovery
Before joint replacement surgery a medical clearance is required from each of a patient’s doctors. Patients and their family members also take a class where a physical therapist explains what happens to the patient in the hospital.
“Speed of recovery really depends on the person’s motivation and their physical strength and coordination,” says Dr. Turek. “Once the patient is over the acute discomfort we send them to a rehab unit where they’ll get physical therapy twice a day. Rehab may last three days for younger patients or ten days for people in their 80’s or 90’s. We want the patient to feel that they are stable on a walker, crutches or whatever they’re using for the remainder of their recovery.”
The average patient may use a walker at home for two to four weeks before transitioning to a cane for another two to four weeks, according to Dr. Turek. Within three months most patients no longer need any assistant devices.
“Patients should not be afraid of this surgery or feel that they’re too old for it. There is no too old for this procedure,” says Dr. Turek. “Hip or knee replacement can make a very significant difference in seniors’ lives and their ability to function and care for themselves.”