Seventy-five years ago, doctors never could have imagined the advancements that have been made in the orthopedic field. Replacing joints with robot-like parts, using robotic assistance? Preposterous.
Today, joint replacement surgery is almost as routine as a root canal - which is good news for those who suffer with shoulder, knee and hip pain and just want to find relief.
As orthopedic surgeons, the goal is to help improve patients’ pain, improve their joint function and help get them back to normal activities as much as possible.
Reasons for joint replacement
The primary reason for total joint replacement is osteoarthritis, but the procedure also remedies post-traumatic arthritis from previous injuries, rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory arthritis - all of which can be equally disabling.
If conservative, noninvasive treatments fail at providing relief, surgery is the next option. The most common total joint replacements are knees, with hips as a close second.
Technological advancements provide patient benefits
Surgical accuracy has improved greatly, due to advancements allowing computer-assisted navigation, bone trackers and infrared beams to guide optimally balanced implantation. This accuracy prevents a joint from wearing out prematurely.
The implants themselves have also benefited from scientific betterment, as have pre- and post-operative physical therapy protocols, anesthesia efficacy and incision size.
All of this combines to provide a more comfortable, rapid recovery. Patients typically only stay one or two nights in the hospital and are up and moving just a few hours post-surgery. Thirty years ago, patients would have been put on bed rest and wouldn't have moved for a week. Now, they are mobilized right away with the goal of returning them to their home environment as soon as possible.
Even if patients have pain, it can be controlled well at home. And, studies have shown there is less risk of complications in a home environment than could occur during an extended hospital stay.
When to say “It’s time”
There has been an increase in the need for total joint replacements as the Baby Boomer generation ages. However, the most influential factors when considering surgery have nothing to do with age - they have to do with quality of life.
When therapeutic options such as anti-inflammatories, cortisone injections, modifications to activities, physical therapy or bracing prove unsuccessful and pain routinely interferes with individuals’ day-to-day activities, it’s time to look at surgery.
If you can't keep up with the grandkids or want to travel more but your knee or hip hurts, you shouldn't have to suffer. Joint replacement surgery is largely successful.
However, before arriving at that decision, patients undergo a thorough medical history and X-ray assessments. Certain comorbidities such as a cardiac history, diabetic history or lung problems must be considered.
It’s all about balancing the risks and the benefits. If necessary, physicians enlist cardiologists or pulmonologists to look at the whole picture in order to ensure a patient is a suitable candidate for joint replacement surgery.
A replacement procedure can, without a doubt, provide an improved quality of life.
Dr. Richard Cimpl is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Columbus Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Clinic.