Kathy McFarland knows a thing or two about joint replacement. She should. A rare form of arthritis called calcium pyrophosphate deposition disease has led her to have six of them in the past 12 years. Although she says the first surgery scared her, they don’t anymore. “Now I’m totally fearless,” McFarland says.
If you’re facing joint replacement for the first time, you’re probably apprehensive, too. And that’s natural. But arming yourself with knowledge can help put your fears to rest.
|Kathy McFarland's six joint replacements have helped her maintain an active lifestyle.|
Fear: It will hurt.
It’s true that there will be pain. It is surgery, after all. Joint replacement is a surgical procedure, and a considerable one at that.
But McFarland and others who have had joint replacement insist it’s worth it. “The pain you’re in now is so much worse than what you’ll have after surgery,” she says. “The pain from arthritis is constant and will only get worse, whereas the pain associated with surgery is temporary and will go away in time.”
Great strides have been made in pain management, and the goal of every doctor and nurse at Beaufort Memorial is to minimize pain as much as possible.
Fear: I will need to be off my feet for a long time after surgery.
The idea that joint replacement surgery means weeks or months of bed rest is more than outdated. In fact, as your orthopaedic surgeon will tell you, using your new joint soon after surgery is the best possible medicine. After a hip or a knee replacement, that generally means you will be encouraged to get up and walk the day of your surgery.
Most patients are able to leave the hospital in one to two days. Physical therapy starts immediately. Because patients rehabilitate at different rates, some at the four- to six-week interval are back to performing their normal activities of daily living, while others might take longer than that.
Fear: Rehabilitation will be too time-consuming
Yes, rehabilitation is hard work. There needs to be a personal commitment on the part of the patient to be successful, too. The surgical procedure is important, but rehab is critical to the long-term function of the joint. Absent a commitment to the rehabilitation program, the patient will end up with joints that are stiffer and have less strength.
McFarland is a big supporter of rehabilitation, having seen firsthand what a difference it makes. “It’s pretty minimal what you have to do,” she says. “Do the basics and keep active, and you’ll have better results. You have to keep up your end; your doctor can’t do everything for you.”
|Newer implants can last 20-25 years.|
Fear: The joint prosthesis will need to be replaced again in 10 years.
Joint prostheses have come a long way since the first replacement surgeries in the U.S. were performed in the 1960s. Today they’re much more durable. Implants are made of various materials, depending on the joint being replaced and the condition of the surrounding bone.
Common materials include metal, such as stainless steel or titanium, and polyethylene, a durable plastic. Some newer implants, particularly knees and hips, are made out of a special type of ceramic material or oxidized zirconium, which is both smooth and durable. These new implants can last 20 to 25 years, as opposed to older implants that had a 10- to 15-year life span, according to the Arthritis Foundation. The patient’s commitment to properly caring for the joint has a significant effect on how long it will last.
Fear: It’s too soon. I need to wait as long as possible before having joint replacement.
In years past, when joint prostheses didn’t last as long, people used to wait until the last possible moment to have replacement surgery. Today that’s not necessary. Because implants are lasting longer, and because we know that the healthier you are when you have replacement surgery the more successful it will likely be, people aren’t waiting as long in pain. Most doctors suggest that when joint pain starts affecting your quality of life, you should get the surgery done.
Are you researching joint pain, or wondering if others are happy with their decision to have joint replacement surgery? Be sure to check out the Patient Education section of our website.