Arthritis, the loss of smooth function of a joint, can be painful. When it affects the hip or knee, it can be particularly debilitating as these play a large role in mobility. Unfortunately, arthritis is increasing, as levels of physical activity persist despite the aging of our population.
Thankfully, there are treatments available to manage arthritis. For the most part, these are “symptomatic”; science has not yet found the regenerative miracle cure. There is no substance you can put in your body to regrow cartilage. Treatments like anti-inflammatory medicines, activity modification, physical therapy, weight loss, and injections are all aimed at decreasing the pain associated with arthritis. Eventually, these may no longer be effective. Once this is the case, the most reliable surgical option for most patients is total joint replacement, replacing the worn cartilage surface with an artificial one. This could be very effective in increasing function, decreasing pain, and returning to previous activities.
Patients are often told they “need” a joint replacement. I say don’t view it this way. Joint replacements are “elective” surgeries, different from things like a stroke, heart attacks, or traumatic events. No matter what your x-rays show, if you have little to no pain, you generally don’t “need” surgery.
Knowing your options prior to undergoing surgery is crucial. But let’s be honest, surgeons enjoy performing surgery. If your arthritis has been going on for a while, don’t be surprised if it is recommended. Just make sure you understand the goal of joint replacement: pain relief.