As we age, staying active can help prevent a host of health problems, including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Being physically active can also help you remain independent by improving your strength and balance. For many older adults, however, arthritis pain comes between them and the activities they enjoy. In extreme cases, just getting out of bed or into a car can be a challenge. If the debilitating effects of arthritis are limiting your daily routine, it might be time to consider total joint replacement.
Who needs joint replacement?
It sounds complicated, but total joint replacement has become a relatively common procedure. Each year in the United States, more than half a million people undergo knee replacements and roughly 300,000 have total hip replacements. Most of these surgeries involve older adults between the ages of 60 and 70 who are suffering from arthritis.
People with this bone and joint disease may experience pain and other symptoms, such as limited range of motion and swelling. When these symptoms are not managed by medications, total joint replacement may be the best option, says Michael Callan, D.O., an orthopaedic specialist at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital.
“I tell my patients there is a treatment spectrum for arthritis just like many other diseases. There are conservative treatments and those that are more aggressive,” Dr. Callan explains. “Total joint replacement is an option for individuals who are extremely limited in their daily function because of arthritis pain and no other treatments are working.”
What Happens During Surgery?
When joints degenerate because of arthritis or wear and tear, the cartilage erodes. This causes the bones to grind against each other. During a total knee or hip replacement procedure, damaged parts of the joint are replaced by artificial parts made of metal and high-grade surgical plastic. Unlike diseased joints, the replacement pieces will glide smoothly during movement, reducing pain.
As surgeons remove the part of the joint that has been damaged by arthritis, they will try to preserve as much of the healthy bone as possible, notes Dr. Callan, who has performed more than 50 knee replacements and roughly 20 hip replacements during the past year.
From start to finish, Dr. Callan performs a total joint replacement in about an hour and a half. Once the surgery ends, however, the road to greater mobility is just beginning.
The road to recovery
Immediately after surgery, patients are given medication for pain. Also, they can expect to remain in the hospital for two to three days. During that time, they will begin physical therapy and a lengthy recovery process.
“For those who’ve never had surgery, the first few days can be overwhelming,” cautions Dr. Callan. “My job is the easy part. It takes an hour and a half for the surgery, but patients must commit to about three months of physical therapy that begins in the hospital then continues at home and in an outpatient facility. Physical therapy also requires a mental commitment.”
During rehabilitation, patients will learn how their new joints work, how to protect them and how to use them to the best of their ability.
“People who have joint replacement will be using muscles they haven’t used for a long time and doing things they haven’t done in quite some time because they were limited by arthritis pain,” Dr. Callan points out. “It takes a while for the body to get used to doing these activities again.”
Total joint replacement might not be easy, but it’s worth it, says Dr. Callan. Roughly 90 to 95 percent of the people who go through the process of joint replacement surgery and rehabilitation are able to regain their mobility doing the activities they enjoy, he reports.
The benefits of joint replacement
“Joint replacement surgery is probably the most rewarding surgery that an orthopaedic surgeon can do,” he says. “We see people that aren’t able to walk, play with their grandchildren or just get in and out of the car due to arthritis pain. After surgery and a few months of rehabilitation, they are able to regain their lives and start doing these things again with much less pain.”
Dr. Callan advises people suffering from severe pain in their knees or hip joints to be evaluated by their physicians, particularly if they are older and find it difficult to get around.
“It doesn’t mean you have to have surgery. But you may be a candidate for joint replacement,” he says. “This procedure can be very gratifying on the other side of surgery and rehabilitation.”
Free joint seminar
Dr. Callan provides detailed information on joint replacement, including when it’s time to consider this procedure and who would benefit from it, during a free monthly seminar at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital. For more information or to register for the event, call (734) 246-8985.