Q: Is joint replacement surgery right for me?

A: Joint replacement surgery involves replacing parts of the damaged joint (often the knee, hip or shoulder) with components made out of metal, ceramic and plastic, which replicates the movement of healthy joints.

Cartilage, the flexible connective tissue that covers and protects the ends of bones, wears down over time, allowing bone-on-bone contact. When bones rub together, it interferes with joint movement and causes pain.

Symptoms of joint pain requiring treatment include:

  • Loss of range of motion
  • Stiffness in motion
  • Tenderness and swelling of joints
  • Inability to walk comfortably
  • Discomfort when performing everyday activities

There are many treatment options to reduce joint inflammation and pain, such as lifestyle changes, including activity and diet modification, or over-the-counter medications, including ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

Physical therapy exercises can limit joint pain, and braces can provide joint support and help increase mobility. Cortisone, hyaluronic acid injections, and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) every few months also can limit inflammation and pain in the affected joint.

If these treatment options are not effective, joint replacement surgery may be necessary. People can take multiple steps to prepare for surgery to improve their post-operative experience.

Strength training and rehab therapy before surgery (“pre-hab”) can improve recovery time after surgery. Proper nutrition before, during and after surgery is critical for a successful outcome. Discussions with family and friends about support and potential lifestyle changes also are important in the recovery process.

The recovery process differs for each person. All patients will walk the same day of their surgery. Some patients are even able to go home on the same day, while the majority of others, close to 90%, will go home within 24 hours. Rarely do patients require formal inpatient rehabilitation, but it is available if needed.

Upon returning home, patients start a self-directed home exercise program and can have a therapist come to their house if needed. After being seen at their two-week post-op appointment, a determination is made whether formal outpatient therapy is needed.

Those who undergo surgery may be concerned about when they can return to work, but there is no definitive timeline. Depending on the nature of their job and their recovery process, patients may return to work in as little as two weeks or up to 12 weeks.

Recent advancements in minimally invasive surgery and pain management have helped patients experience less pain and faster recoveries. Joint replacement surgery is one of the most successful types of surgery, and the surgery routinely decreases pain, increases mobility, and improves quality of life.

If you are experiencing significant joint pain, talk to your doctor about your treatment options.

Christopher Selgrath is a board-certified, fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon/joint replacement specialist at Nazareth Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia.