Health Report: Total Joint Replacement

Not only can joint pain keep people from enjoying their favorite sports, it can interfere with simple everyday activities such as walking, bending, climbing stairs and even sleeping.

For some people, medications, physical therapy and other treatments help relieve pain — but often that relief is only temporary.  When that happens, it may be time to consider joint replacement.  

For people living with debilitating joint pain caused by arthritis, injury, illness or simply getting older, joint replacement surgery can permanently eliminate your pain and improve your mobility. Joint replacement surgery has come a long way in recent years, and hip and knee replacement is easier, safer and more effective than ever before.  

How has joint replacement surgery improved?

Using state-of-the-art medical equipment, an orthopedic surgeon replaces a damaged joint with an artificial joint (called an implant) using outstanding precision and accuracy to mirror your natural anatomy and movement during a one to three hour operation.

Both the technology used in joint replacement and the surgical techniques have greatly improved. The implants used in hip and knee replacement today are stronger, more flexible and last longer, so they can keep you moving comfortably and pain-free for up to 20 years. In many cases, minimally invasive surgical techniques mean fewer and smaller incisions, less discomfort, a shorter hospital stay, and a faster recovery.

Partial joint replacement is also an option to help preserve more healthy bone surface in specific patients.

What’s the recovery process like?

Patients can expect to be in the hospital for two to four days, but outpatient joint replacement surgery might be possible depending on a patient’s overall health. Patients will be back on their feet, moving and walking as soon as the day of surgery. Patients will also begin physical therapy soon after surgery, and a physical rehabilitation specialist will develop a personalized therapy plan to help patients gain the strength and mobility they need to do the activities they enjoy easily and pain-free.

Hip and knee replacement surgery results are typically excellent. Most or all of a patient’s pain and stiffness should go away, and the ability to move freely should improve greatly. Most patients are able to resume all of their usual activities — and do them without pain. If a patient participates in sports, the type of activity makes a difference and participating in low-impact activities such as swimming, cycling and golfing will be possible sooner than tennis or running. 

Full recovery will take several months to a year.

What advances are on the horizon?

When faced with complex joint replacement surgeries orthopedic surgeons have another tool at their disposal: 3-D printers. The technology allows surgeons to practice each surgery virtually, including trying out different prosthetics to find the one that best fits the patient’s anatomy.

Stem cell injections might also provide a non-invasive way to relieve joint pain. Research under way at Scripps Clinic will help to determine at a clinical level which patients and conditions will benefit from stem cell therapy.

What qualifications should I look for in an orthopedic surgeon?  

Where your joints are concerned, experience matters. Hospitals with a high volume of patients have been shown to have better results, so look for orthopedic surgeons who have performed many hip replacement and knee replacement surgeries.

U.S. News & World Report named Scripps the best hospital for adult orthopedics in San Diego, Scripps Clinic is the official health care provider for the San Diego Padres, and Scripps-affiliated physicians serve as team orthopedic surgeons for the San Diego State University Aztecs. 

Categories: Health