Get the facts on joint replacement

Chronic hip, knee or shoulder pain can keep you from enjoying your favorite activities. Sometimes, it even interferes with daily life. Walking up steps, making dinner or doing the laundry can become painful chores. If conservative treatment isn’t relieving your pain, it may be time to talk to your doctor about joint replacement surgery.

Get answers to common questions to help decide if surgery is right for you.

Who is a good candidate for joint replacement surgery?

Joint replacement surgery isn’t the first treatment option your orthopedic specialist or surgeon will discuss if you’re experiencing joint pain. The first step to finding relief from pain is an accurate diagnosis. This helps your provider understand what’s causing your symptoms. And, it gives them a better idea of what approach can help you feel better.

Your initial treatment plan may include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Bracing
  • Injections (including cortisone)
  • Medication

But, if you continue to experience pain after conservative treatment (or if you have severe joint arthritis), your provider may recommend joint replacement surgery. You may be a good candidate if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Pain with walking
  • Pain at rest
  • Pain that keeps you up at night
  • Start-up pain (pain that occurs when you get up from sitting)
  • Chronic dull pain and sharp pain with movement
  • Pain that severely limits your daily activities

“When people have exhausted conservative treatment options and are still experience pain, then joint replacement is an option,” says Gregory Komenda, MD, orthopedic surgeon.

Am I too young for joint replacement?

You may be surprised to learn that patients in their 40s and 50s are sometimes good candidates for surgery.

“We do see a certain number of adults with arthritis at an earlier age from injuries or activities,” Dr. Komenda shares. “Because of their age, they want their quality of life back. If we’ve exhausted all other options and their pain is severe, then surgery may help.”

This is particularly true for knee replacements. Knee replacements are more common than hip replacements. Younger patients may also be candidates for a partial knee replacement if only one part of the joint is affected. This helps ease pain and improve range of motion.

One of our patients, Angela, found relief with her knee replacement surgery.

Is a joint completely replaced during surgery?

The name “joint replacement” can be misleading. Patients expect inches of their joint to be taken out and replaced. What happens is a little less dramatic.

“A knee replacement is more of a resurfacing where we shave 8-10 millimeters off the femur, tibia and back side of the patella,” explains Dr. Komenda. “That’s just over a quarter of an inch. Then, we take metal and high-grade medical plastic to reshape the joint. This helps improve range of motion and relieve pain.”

Is it true that hip replacements only last 10 to 15 years?

Improvements in the materials and surgical approaches are helping hip replacements last longer.

“We want to get 20 to 30 years out of hip replacement,” Dr. Komenda states. “We have different sizes to better fit joints. Stronger plastic and ceramic materials also help joints last longer.”

How long does it take to heal from joint replacement surgery?

Everyone’s recovery journey is different. However, with modern advances, healing often happens much quicker than in the past. In fact, patients are able (and encouraged) to place weight on the joint shortly after surgery. This is because advances in surgical techniques, pain management and improved components in the replaced joint are improving the healing process.

Another key part of the recovery process is physical therapy.

“Physical therapy can help improve healing. It also helps patients regain function in their joint,” explains Dr. Komenda. “It’s important that patients, therapists and surgeons work together to allow for safe, effective recovery.”

What advances are in store for joint replacement surgery?

Orthopedic surgeons have been using robotic surgery to improve the precision of joint replacement.

“Robotics isn’t a replacement for the surgeon, but a tool we use during the procedure that allows us to be very precise in where we place the new joint,” Dr. Komenda says. “The more accurately the joint is placed, the more consistent the function will be. This leads to fewer complications and less wear.”

While robotic surgery for joint replacement is fairly new, some data suggests it may lead to lower revision rates for partial knee replacement surgery.

Another advance in joint replacement surgery is minimally invasive hip surgery. This approach helps reduce recovery time and can even be less painful. Candidates for minimally invasive surgery are often those that are

  • Having their first joint surgery
  • Committed to recovery and rehab
  • At a healthy weight

Is it safe to have joint replacement surgery during COVID-19?

Exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) is a common concern for many patients right now. They can find peace of mind knowing that we’re taking important safety steps to reduce their risk of spreading or catching the virus while in the hospital or in any of our clinics.

Your surgeon can help you assess your risk and decide if now is the time for your procedure.


Find a doctor

When you are considering joint replacement surgery, be sure to talk with your doctor to help decide if it's the right time and if you are a candidate. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory. If you want to consult with a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

Our philosophy for well being is looking at the holistic human experience. As such, the Swedish Wellness & Lifestyle Team is committed to shining a light on health-related topics that help you live your healthiest life. From nutrition to mindfulness to annual screenings, our team offers clinically-backed advice and tips to help you and your loved ones live life to the fullest.

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