When is it time for joint replacement?

An estimated one in five adults in the U.S. has been diagnosed with arthritis, and even more go undiagnosed.

An estimated one in five adults in the U.S. has been diagnosed with arthritis, and even more go undiagnosed.  Arthritis and related conditions are the most common cause of disability among U.S. adults.

In addition, people with arthritis report significantly worse quality of life than those without arthritis. That was the case for Carol Ritter, of Henderson, Kentucky. The active 74-year-old grandmother of four began experiencing pain in her knees a few years ago. Over time, it progressed to where she wasn’t able to do all the things she normally could.

“My favorite thing to do is watch my grandkids play sports and I found I wasn’t able to get up and down the steps at ball games,” Ritter said. “And after sitting a couple hours, getting back up was difficult.”

Ritter began getting cortisone injections to help with the pain and stiffness. They provided relief for a while, but the pain progressively got worse. She and her physician concluded that knee replacement surgery was her only option in giving back her quality of life.

“I thought, ‘I don’t like being this way. I’ve got to do something about this,’” she said.

While there are other reasons people need joint replacement, arthritis is the most common. In fact, nearly half a million people a year in the U.S. get joint replacements due to arthritis. Ritter had her right knee replaced in January 2014. So happy with the result, she had her left knee replaced four months later.

For her, the decision to have major surgery was an easy one. But it’s not something you enter into lightly. In addition to discussing it with physicians, Ritter talked to friends who had joints replaced and educated herself on what to expect before, during and after surgery.

Those considering surgery should go to a surgeon they are comfortable with, can ask questions of and who has a pleasant office staff and environment. According a study in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, these factors can affect the outcome of surgery. Here are some questions to consider asking your surgeon:

  • How often in the past year have you performed this operation? Choose a surgeon who does at least 50 a year. Also ask about complication rates.
  • Does the hospital where the operation will be performed do a high volume of joint replacements? High-volume hospitals will have experienced staff and usually have a lower infection rate.
  • How will pain be controlled after surgery? Make sure you understand and are comfortable with anesthetics that will be used.
  • What type of rehabilitation will I need? Look for a hospital that gets patients moving soon after surgery. This reduces the risk of complications and speeds recovery.

Ritter, who went to Cyna Khalily, M.D., with Norton Orthopaedic Specialists – Downtown, felt her surgeon’s office played a big role in her experience.

“I was impressed with the office staff,” she said. “They were congenial and very thorough. They communicated clearly about what needed to happen and coordinated with my doctors in Henderson.”

After surgery Ritter made sure she followed her surgeon’s orders for physical therapy and continued her rehab exercises after she was cleared to discontinue physical therapy.

“I’m amazed at how well I did,” Ritter said. “I recovered very quickly and was back to work in four weeks.”

Ritter, who lives about two hours from Louisville, said it was worth the drive to Louisville for her surgeries if it meant being comfortable with her surgeon and the surgery process. Today she has no activity limitations and is back to cheering on her grandkids and enjoying her active lifestyle.

Her advice to others considering joint replacement: “Don’t wait until you’re older and develop other health issues that may prevent you from having surgery. You don’t have to live with the pain.”

Are you ready for a new joint?

Waiting until arthritis is severe can make surgery and recovery harder. Check the list below to see if it’s time to talk to your doctor about joint replacement.

  • Medication doesn’t relieve the pain or has unwanted side effects.
  • Pain makes it hard to sleep.
  • Routine activities are hard, such as bathing, climbing stairs or getting out of a chair.
  • Pain prevents you from exercising, shopping, traveling, socializing and enjoying life.


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