Are you a candidate for joint replacement?

If you suffer from severe hip or knee pain that doesn’t improve with nonsurgical treatment and affects your quality of life, you may want to consider joint replacement surgery. Hip and knee replacements are the most commonly performed joint replacement surgeries in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

But before you decide to undergo joint replacement surgery, there's a lot you should consider. S. Douglas Werner, DO, an orthopedist at HonorHealth who specializes in primary and revision total joint replacement of the hip and knee, outlines the steps you should follow if you're considering joint replacement surgery.

1. Make sure you get an accurate diagnosis and talk to your doctor.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It affects more than 30 million adults in the U.S. and occurs in your hands, hips and knees, causing the cartilage and bones within a joint to break down. Over time, osteoarthritis can cause symptoms such as pain, stiffness and swelling.

To effectively diagnose arthritis, HonorHealth orthopedic surgeons review images from an X-ray and perform a thorough physical evaluation to determine if there’s cartilage loss and if the protective space around the joint has decreased.

"An X-ray is an effective diagnostic tool that shows the extent of your cartilage loss,” says Dr. Werner. "If your cartilage is completely gone, the joint may become stiff and painful. Initial treatments target optimizing motion and strength while minimizing pain. This may include exercise, weight loss, physical therapy and injection treatments. However, in severe cases, nonsurgical options may provide limited benefit, and you may need a total joint replacement as the last option for severe degenerative joint disease.”

2. Assess your symptoms and quality of life

Eventually, joint pain may negatively affect your mobility, daily activity level and quality of life. The pain can become more persistent and severe, causing joint stiffness, swelling and loss of motion. If you have hip or knee pain, you can develop a limp. This is the body’s way of compensating for a compromised joint. You may end up needing a walker or cane for stability and safety.

"Osteoarthritis is the result of a combination of multiple genetic and environmental components," says Dr. Werner. “The factors under our control are the ability to optimize diet and exercise and to maintain a healthy weight and activity level. A sedentary lifestyle will exacerbate the symptoms and being overweight will accelerate joint damage. The best medicine is prevention; however, in certain cases of prior trauma or genetic predisposition, the development of degenerative arthritis is unavoidable.”

3. Determine your goals and set expectations

Most who undergo joint replacement are seeking relief from pain, while others are hoping to resume their normal activities. It’s important that you understand what joint replacement surgery entails along with the associated risks. Staying motivated to complete the rehab process and have realistic goals and expectations following joint replacement surgery is key to your recovery.

"Patients generally are able to quickly restore function after a joint replacement procedure, but to maximize longevity, high-impact activities like running or jogging are best avoided," says Dr. Werner. “Remember, everyone progresses at their own comfort level while under the guidance of their surgeon and physical therapy team."

Advances in technology, surgical techniques, materials and treatment protocols have improved the outcomes in total joint replacement. Surgeries are performed with less invasive techniques, and improved accuracy and precision from computer navigation and robotic technologies. Overall total joint replacement is highly successful in relieving pain and restoring function, improving quality of life.

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