No one is ever excited when a doctor recommends joint replacement surgery ‹ for a knee, hip, shoulder, or any other body part.
Here are 4 reasons people put off surgery:
1. You're scared of surgery.
Yes, surgeons replace knees and hips every day ‹ and to an orthopedic specialist, this might be a surgery she could do in her sleep.
But, for you ‹ the person having the surgery ‹ it's new and really scary.
There are ominous forms to fill out, the knowledge that you will undergo a major surgery and the reality that when you wake up, you're likely to be in pain.
You can probably think of a million other ways you'd rather spend a day, but focus on why it's time for surgery: On the other side of all the joint pain and the recovery from surgery is a better quality of life.
Think about it: If it's your knee is bothering you, that is the largest joint in your body, says the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. You need your knees to perform most daily activities. What if you could do those things without cringing every time?
2. You don't know how much it will really help.
Many people with joint injuries or arthritis are dealing with pain from multiple points in the body. But they've learned to work around the pain by sitting a certain way, avoiding certain activities or doing other work arounds. “I'm used to how I feel now,” they say. “I am managing. If I am still going to hurt, why would I bother to have surgery?”
“One of the most common causes of knee pain is related to osteoarthritis. With this, the cartilage on the bottom of the thigh bone and the top of the tibia wear away. The bones rub together, which causes knee pain,” says Tracy Phillips, RN, the orthopedic/spine service line coordinator for West Valley Medical Center.
On it's own this will likely get worse before it gets better. You may be coping with the pain now, but how do you know you'll be able to deal when the pain gets worse? Replacing the joint can help diminish overall pain.
3. The recovery from surgery sounds worse than what you're dealing with today.
Post-surgery, you may need months of rehab. If you're not convinced that you will feel a lot less pain, it can be hard to commit to that much recovery time and effort.
Many people experience anxiety about the rehabilitation process.
You may have to walk with crutches or a walker for a while. You may need to install a shower bar at home, or a seat to raise the height of your toilet.
But recovery time varies and isn't always a long-term ordeal.
“Many times after surgery, our patients are able to return to their hobbies and activities in anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months,” Phillips says.
4. You want to exhaust every non-surgical option.
It makes sense to do everything you can before undergoing surgery.
If you can do physical therapy and cortisone shots ‹ often as a precursor to joint replacement surgery ‹ why go under the knife? In fact, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says, try non-surgical methods first. But if they stop working, it's time to consider joint replacement.
“I have had patients who have gotten adequate relief from the cortisone shots and others that have gotten no relief at all,” Phillips says.
And, Phillips points out, cortisone shots have risks, such as:
- Death of nearby bone (osteonecrosis)
- Joint infection
- Nerve damage
- Thinning of skin and soft tissue around the injection site
- Temporary flare of pain and inflammation in the joint
- Tendon weakening or rupture
- Thinning of nearby bone (osteoporosis)
- Whitening or lightening of the skin around the injection site
It makes sense to listen to your doctor and try less invasive options if that's what he recommends, but as Phillips points out, these options may not work for everyone.
When It's Time for Joint Replacement Surgery
“What I hear most often is that patients are unable to enjoy normal activities because of their joint pain. Typically, they have tried conservative measures such as therapy, injections and assistive devices, but in the end are still having quite a bit of pain that deters them from continuing with activities,” Phillips says.
One patient knew it was time to say yes to hip replacement surgery when she caught a glimpse someone in a store window and thought, “Who is that hunched over old lady?”
When she realized she was seeing herself, she called her doctor.
The decision about whether and when to undergo surgery is personal and should be made with your doctor. But if your specialist thinks it's time, and in your gut you think she's right, don't let anything hold you back from living a pain-free life.
If you or a loved one want to learn more about overcoming joint pain, here's more information about West Valley's pain management and joint replacement services.