When Is the Right Time to Consider Joint Replacement?

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Joint replacement surgery is a procedure where a damaged joint, including cartilage and bone, is removed and replaced with one of the following: 

  • A metal device
  • A plastic device
  • A ceramic device 

The procedure is commonly used to alleviate joint pain or damage caused by an underlying disease or condition. The devices that replace the affected joints are designed to replicate the function and mobility of a healthy joint.

Almost 2.4 million hip and knee replacement surgeries took place in the U.S. in 2021, which is 18.3% higher than the procedural volume than that of 2020. 

But while joint replacement surgery is common, that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. Alternative therapies are becoming increasingly effective, and even lifestyle changes such as diet, physical activity and weight management can significantly reduce joint pain.

When joint replacement surgery is recommended, however, proper timing for the procedure is key. While it can be tempting to schedule surgery as soon as possible to relieve your joint pain symptoms sooner, that’s not always what is best for your health and subsequent recovery.

Here, we cover the best time to have knee replacement surgery, factors to consider before scheduling your joint replacement surgery and the different kinds of surgery that are available.

Joint Pain in Your Daily Life

National surveys have revealed that joint pain affects roughly one-third of the American population. It can have a wide variety of causes, including:

  • Everyday wear and tear of the joint due to aging
  • Serious or continued injury, such as ACL injuries, fractures, a torn meniscus or knee bursitis
  • Certain types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout
  • Being overweight
  • Lacking knee mobility or strength

If you have knee pain but have not had an injury, read more on common reasons for sudden knee pain.

Joint pain and arthritis can quickly make everyday activities a challenge. They can limit your mobility, cause overall fatigue, keep you from getting a good night’s rest and more.

People who are experiencing joint pain often report trouble completing the following daily activities:

  • Walking
  • Exercising
  • Taking the stairs
  • Sitting in low chairs
  • Getting out of bed
  • Performing favorite recreational activities
  • Spending quality time with family

When knee pain becomes so debilitating that it begins to affect your essential or favored activities, it can take a toll not just physically, but mentally as well, causing you to feel depressed, anxious or left out.

Even with the pain, discomfort and emotional distress associated with joint pain, you may still find yourself asking, “How long can I put off knee replacement surgery?”

If you’re willing to try alternatives to surgery, the answer may just be “longer than you think.” In fact, before considering the best time for knee replacement surgery, we recommend trying non-surgical options to see if surgery can be avoided. 

Non-surgical Alternatives to Try

Prior to putting your name down for knee replacement surgery, consider trying the following alternative treatments for joint pain relief.

Wear a Brace

A knee brace helps alleviate knee pain by providing additional support. This allows you to work on building knee strength while the brace keeps your pain and inflammation at bay.

You can wear a knee brace while performing day-to-day activities and exercising, both of which can strengthen your knee joints and increase mobility.

Try Injections

Injections of multiple substances into a painful knee or hip can suppress the inflammation that causes pain while promoting healing.

Implement Lifestyle Changes

Your doctor may ask you to try making some lifestyle changes before opting for surgery. Some lifestyle changes that may assist in treating knee pain include losing weight, participating in low-impact exercise and eating an anti-inflammatory diet.

Practice Gentle Exercises and Stretching

Practicing gentle exercises and stretching may help relieve knee pain while strengthening the joint and increasing your range of motion. 

A few low-impact exercises you can try include:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Light gardening
  • Targeted stretches

Be mindful during exercise to stop before experiencing any pain. Read our blog on muscle pain versus soreness to help ensure you exercise safely, and talk with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.

Start Physical Therapy

If gentle exercise and stretching seems too difficult or painful to perform on your own, your doctor may recommend trying physical therapy before having a knee replacement surgery. 

You can gain knee flexibility, mobility and strength through exercises performed with the assistance of trained physical therapy professionals.

If you have exhausted most or all of the above surgical alternatives, it would be wise to seek out medical direction from an orthopedist to determine if knee replacement surgery is right for you. 

Indications for Surgery

While we recommend giving non-surgical treatment methods a shot first, many non-surgical options provide only short-term or temporary pain relief. They also may not be suitable for your condition if there is existing damage to your joints.

Delaying knee replacement surgery for too long can unnecessarily prolong your pain and result in increased damage to your:

  • Joint
  • Cartilage
  • Bones
  • Tendons
  • Ligaments

Additionally, a delay of surgery may result in nerve irritation and continuous pain, swelling and stiffness, making everyday activities increasingly painful and difficult to perform.

Factors to Consider When Deciding the Best Time to Have Knee Replacement Surgery

Once it has been determined that surgery is your best treatment option, the next step is to determine the best time to have knee replacement surgery. Here are a few factors to keep in mind when deciding.

Severity of Joint Damage and Pain

Three key factors in deciding if it is the best time to have knee replacement surgery are: 

  • How much joint damage there is
  • How much pain it is causing you
  • The impact that pain is having on your daily life 

Your doctor can help you determine your specific amount of joint damage through examination and imaging. It is important to be open and honest about your pain levels to aid your provider in making the best treatment recommendations.

Additionally, you may consider having knee replacement surgery if you have:

  • Severe knee pain that limits daily activities
  • Moderate to severe knee pain while resting
  • Lasting knee inflammation or swelling that does not heal with rest or medications

Your Age and General Health

According to Harvard Health, because the lifespan of a knee replacement is 15 to 20 years, it is often recommended that patients wait until age 60 to proceed with knee replacement surgery. However, individual circumstances such as pain and damage also play a large role in determining the best time for knee replacement surgery.

Your overall health is another factor to consider before knee replacement surgery due to potential risks that accompany any surgery. You also want to make sure you’re in a position to have a healthy recovery.

A few things you can do to manage your health before surgery include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Controlling your blood sugar
  • Quitting smoking
  • Participating in rehabilitation exercises

Following these health recommendations helps to prevent the following conditions post surgery:

  • Blood clots
  • Infection
  • Stiffness
  • Early failure
  • Pain

Your Activity Level

Finally, it is worth considering your current activity level. You should think about what your physical activity level looks like before surgery and what you would like your physical activity goals to look like after surgery. 

Following surgery, it’s important to talk with your provider about what physical activities are safe for you during your recovery.

Different Types of Joint Replacement Surgery Offered

Depending on your condition and the severity of your case, there are a variety of joint replacement surgery options to meet your needs. 

Knee Replacement Surgery

We offer three main types of knee replacement surgery:

  1. Total knee replacement surgery: This surgery replaces the weight-bearing surfaces of your knee joint to revive your range of motion and get rid of any irreversible damage.
  2. Partial knee replacement surgery: This surgery offers an alternative to total knee replacement surgery for when only a portion of your knee is affected by disease or arthritis. Only the affected part is removed.
  3. Total knee revision surgery: This surgery replaces the inserts from a prior total knee replacement if they have shifted or become worn down.

When you undergo a knee replacement with us, we use a robotic-assisted surgical system called MAKO SmartRobotics to deliver greater precision and accuracy.

Hip Replacement Surgery
In addition to knee replacement surgery, we also offer MAKOplasty hip replacement surgery for patients who have exhausted all other treatment options. 

We specialize in two different types of hip surgery: 

  1. Total hip revision surgery: This surgery can fix problems with previous hip replacement prosthetics or replace them entirely. It can also be used to provide structural support if the bone around your hip is damaged.
  2. Anterior total hip replacement surgery: This surgery replaces the diseased ball and socket of your hip with a ceramic ball and plastic-lined titanium socket, which work together to restore the natural rotational movement of your hip.

Choosing MAKOplasty Joint Replacement

If you’re considering knee replacement or hip replacement surgery, MAKOplasty technology brings a wide variety of benefits to your procedure and recovery. The surgery is guided by a state-of-the-art robotic arm and driven by your experienced surgeon, allowing for an easier incision with minimal scarring.

Other benefits of robotic-assisted surgery include:

  • Enhanced precision and accuracy
  • Detailed 3D pre-surgical planning
  • Increased safety
  • Faster recovery time
  • Minimal downtime
  • More joint mobility

If you’re interested in learning more about MAKOplasty technology or the best time to get knee replacement surgery, make an appointment at the Joint Replacement Center of Scottsdale now. We’ll schedule an initial consultation to answer your questions and provide personalized treatment recommendations.