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Joint Replacement Surgery

Robert Cercek, MD, is a board certified orthopedic surgeon fellowship trained in adult hip and knee reconstruction.

Question: I have heard that people should postpone joint replacement surgery for as long as possible. Is that true?

Answer: While patients were once advised to wait, preferably until age 65, to undergo joint replacement surgery, advances in medical devices mean waiting is no longer necessary.

The first joint replacement surgery was performed in the 1950s. While the practice and, in some cases the approach, remain much the same, implant devices have certainly evolved. Regardless of whether the procedure is to replace a damaged hip, knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist or ankle joint, replacement surgery entails affixing two metal castings to the ends of both connecting bones and inserting a plastic liner between them. 

Before about 2000, the plastic parts that made up an artificial joint had a lifespan of about 10 to 15 years. However, implant improvements, specifically improvements to the plastic components, have doubled their lifespan. Today’s joint implants are projected to last up to 30 years.

With more durable plastic liners and a longer overall lifespan of implants comes less need for individuals to live with joint pain and discomfort. In the somewhat unlikely event that an implant does in fact wear out, a simple surgery to change out the plastic liner could give the patient yet another 30 years of pain-free joint function.

The majority of today’s elective joint replacement patients are younger than 65. Though it is no longer necessary to postpone joint replacement simply because someone is considered too young, I encourage anyone experiencing joint issues to first exhaust all non-surgical therapies and treatment options. Joint replacement should be the end point of the treatment plan. Furthermore, it is important to recognize that not everyone is a candidate for joint replacement.

As with any surgery, joint replacement presents some risks. A person’s overall health status, physical function and age should be considered. After about age 80, the risks of surgery and medical complications that could result can outweigh the potential benefits. Since age is a relative number, primary care physicians often are involved in decisions about joint replacement.

Learn more about joint replacement surgery on the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website.

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