Just like classic cars, your original joints, motors and components can only be maintained for so long. Even the healthiest people can experience degeneration of joints, leading to pain in their daily life. Today’s technology and techniques have made joint replacement a realistic outcome for many uncomfortable people. And while sequels are rarely better than the original, you may be surprised by the durability and performance of your joints reprise.
To answer some of the most common questions related to joint replacement, we brought in Joseph Scoggin, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Banner Health Clinic in Gilbert, AZ. He speaks with patients every day to discuss the pros and cons of joint replacement and is an expert in the latest, most durable materials.
Q: When should I consider joint replacement?
A: Prevention should be your first response to the possibility of a joint replacement. Exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and daily stretching are vital to preventing the degeneration of your joints. Reducing your joint pain doesn’t require Olympic commitment to fitness, many healthy practices can be done from home.
Replacement surgery is invasive and carries the risks inherent in surgery. While joint replacement is often a great way to reduce daily pain, it’s not a decision to be made lightly. “A joint replacement should be considered when all conservative treatment options have failed and you have daily pain that limits your activity,” said Dr. Scoggin. “We usually prefer patients to wait until they are in their late 50s or 60s, if possible. Even healthy 80-year-olds are good candidates.”
Joint replacement is rarely your first option, but with careful consideration you may find that it is the right one for you. Dr. Scoggin added, “With most types of arthritis we can try oral anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy and various injections. These treatment options may provide short term pain relief, but a joint replacement can lead to lasting pain relief and improved function.”
Q: What materials are used in joint replacement?
A: The materials used vary depending on the joint you are replacing. In each replacement, multiple materials may be used to make the most functional and durable joint possible. Dr. Scoggin explained the anatomy of a modern ball-and-socket hip replacement, “We almost always use a ceramic femoral head (ball) on a polyethylene acetabular liner (socket). Titanium is used for the metal implants in the femur and pelvis. The ceramic femoral head has excellent wear characteristics with a very high surface hardness. The plastic liner has also improved with highly cross-linked polyethylene and sterilization processes.”
Knee replacements are very different from the hip, explained Dr. Scoggin. “We use a very hard metal, cobalt chrome for the femur implant with a plastic tray on a titanium tibial implant. Usually a small plastic button is placed on the back of the kneecap.”
Choosing the right materials for your replacement is a discussion you should have with your doctor. There are many factors to take into account, including rare metal allergies which may require special implants for some patients.
Q: How long does a joint replacement usually last?
A: Improved technology and years of experience have made implant designs more uniform and predictable. “We have improved surgical techniques, often utilizing computer navigation or robotic technology,” said Dr. Scoggin. “I usually tell patients that we anticipate 25-year survival for hip and knee replacements. Early failure of joint replacement surgery is very uncommon given improved implants and surgical techniques.”
Q: What can I do to make my joint last longer?
A: Your new joints are extremely strong, but that doesn’t make them invulnerable. Dr. Scoggin advised, “Joint replacements are made for normal daily activities including hiking, tennis or pickleball and unlimited walking. They are not designed for prolonged running, contact sports or downhill skiing. Keeping your weight down also helps your new knee or hip to last longer.”
A healthy body is incredibly durable. Make smart decisions to keep you out of harm’s way and avoid repeated jarring impact to your joint. Taking care of your joint replacement means taking care of your whole body. In fact, Dr. Scoggin added that “antibiotics to prevent late infection are required before dental cleaning for at least two years after surgery.”
If you and your doctor have explored every other option, a joint replacement might be exactly the solution to get you active and pain-free once again. Contact a Banner Health physician to discuss your options.