Joint Replacement Can Stop Arthritis
With every new season opener, the progressive pain of arthritis can come back and slap you with each trip into the boat or out of the truck as you head out to hunt.
More than 80 million Americans face everyday pain as arthritis nags at their joints and saps their spirits.
Anglers and hunters might try to “gut it out” and battle their symptoms, sometimes for years. But when treatment such as anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy and joint injections fail, it’s time to consider the definitive solution of joint replacement surgery, says Thomas Ambrose II, MD, Avera Medical Group orthopedic surgeon.
“The other steps are merely Band-Aid options that address the symptoms; joint-replacement surgery is the only treatment that addresses the disease of osteoarthritis, which makes up about 80 to 90 percent of the arthritis patients we see,” he said. “Arthritic joints have lost the protective cartilage, and that’s where the pain comes from. Joint replacement surgery allows us to address the arthritic joint surfaces with new metal and plastic surfaces.”
Dr. Ambrose explained that while cartilage has no nerves, bones have a rich nerve ending network. When bones rub in a knee joint, that’s the pain arthritis sufferers know too well. After a joint replacement, that pain is gone. There’s some recovery time and pain from the surgery itself, but the underlying problem is addressed.
“There is often minimal discomfort and most patients are up and walking on the day of their surgery,” he said. “Most go home the next day. That’s why we try to educate more people who are suffering from this pain that there are surgical options that can help them. You’re the patient suffering the pain and the limits in your life that come with osteoarthritis.”
Most patients who have joint replacements are in the 55-80 age range, although there are some exceptions. More people in their 40s who continue to run, bike and play organized sports for longer periods of their lives may experience arthritis earlier, and then need joint replacement surgery at younger ages.
Dr. Ambrose said in most cases, a replaced joint will last from 15-25 years and that a non-operative osteoarthritis management process must occur – and fail – prior to many insurance providers covering the cost of the surgery in full.
“That process can be a few months or several years, but there are some severe cases where X-ray evidence shows that joint replacement is the best next step,” Dr. Ambrose said. “Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, so no matter what we do short of joint replacement, the underlying issue may still lead to pain.”
After a joint replacement, running, jumping and sky-diving are off limits.
But most people realize an improvement to their overall well-being, which means more seasons on the water, in the field and most importantly: less pain.
“We see about a 4-to-1 ratio of knee to hip replacements and they can really help those who suffer from this disease,” he said. “We are not sure why some people get arthritis and others do not. But replacing the joint is the best way to definitively treat the progressive pain that so many people experience.”