How do I know if joint replacement surgery is right for me?

Dr. William A. Leone, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

Joint replacement surgery may be right for you if you exhibit the following signs. Have a thorough conversation with your doctor to explore all of the treatment options, including joint replacement surgery:

  • if pain keeps you awake at night or you wake up from sleep
  • if pain limits your ability to perform typical daily activities such as walking, climbing stairs, or getting up and down from a sitting position and in and out of your car
  • if pain limits leisure activities such as walking, exercising, dancing, golf, tennis, traveling or even shopping
  • if you have tried other less-invasive treatments for a suggested period of time, such as exercise, physical therapy, a brace, anti-inflammatory medicines, or injections
  • if you are experiencing total frustration that you are losing your quality of life due to impaired mobility or pain
  • if you are developing a progressive loss of motion or progressive deformity
Joint replacement may be right for you if it is the only way you can be out of pain. Pain seems to be the big modulator of how long to go before replacing joints.

At the point when you have joint pain that is lasting beyond the length of time expected for treatment, doctors go on to the next step, which is injections in the joint. If you're only getting three or four months out of an injection, then it may be time to start thinking about joint replacement surgery.
Dr. Vonda Wright, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon
I advise patients with x-ray evidence of end stage arthritis that the time is right for joint replacement surgery when you have exhaused the non-surgical care of arthritis (PT, NSAIDS, hyalguronic acid injections), you "can't take the pain another day" or when your function is compromized and you want your quality of life back. Make sure your Orthopaedic joint surgeon is not only skilled at putting in the first joint but can revise it if needed in the future.
Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Discuss joint replacement surgery with your orthopedic surgeon to decide if it is right for you. Things to think about include:

  •  your age
  •  your weight
  •  which joint is affected
  •  your overall health
  •  your ability to do the physical therapy needed after the surgery

To find out if joint replacement surgery is right for you, if you have been having problems with your hips or knees for some time, it might be a good idea to discuss this with your doctor or to seek the advice of an orthopedic surgeon. Also, consultation with a joint-replacement specialist may prove useful for deciding whether joint replacement is appropriate.

Not all people with arthritis need a joint replacement.  Some people may have severe findings on x-ray, but they may still be functioning on a high level. In most cases, there are a variety of non-operative treatment recommendations that should be explored. Generally, joint replacement surgery is reserved for those people who have failed an appropriate course of non-operative management.

Joint replacement surgery is an entirely elective surgery; nobody absolutely requires hip or knee replacement. However, if you have extreme pain and trouble functioning, you’ll probably want to explore having hip or knee surgery. I always use the analogy of the mirror test: If you look in the mirror and all you're thinking about is your hip or knee pain or your limitations, then that’s usually the time to strongly consider evaluation. From there you might decide to undergo hip or knee replacement surgery.

You’ll know that joint replacement surgery may be right for you if you’ve tried every alternative and nothing has worked. Only you truly know how much pain you are in. As a rule, surgery is best for people that have chronic joint pain. It’s hard for them to walk or carry on their daily activities without being in severe pain. Some patients have to stop doing things altogether. The goal is to get you back to a point where you can get back to doing the things you love.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.