Wellness & Education

Risks of Delaying a Total Joint Replacement 

Factors to Consider When Scheduling a Total Joint Replacement

There are a lot of factors to consider when scheduling a total joint replacement of a hip or knee. While pain is usually the primary consideration, it is not the only one. It’s important to take into consideration: 

  • Overall health 
  • Weight loss concerns 
  • The time needed off work for surgery and recovery 
  • The risks of surgery 
  • The need to stop smoking (“Studies have shown that active cigarette smokers have up to 1.5 to 3.2 times increased risk of wound-related complications following a joint replacement surgery.”) Smoking | Hip and Knee Care (aahks.org)

Unnecessary Delays Have Downsides

A recent study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery highlights another consideration:  the risks of delaying total joint replacement surgery. The study found that as many as 90% of osteoarthritis patients wait too long to have a total joint replacement of the hip or knee. This delay can actually cause patients to lose some of the potential benefitof the procedure. 

Physical Inactivity Delays Recovery 

When people are in enough pain to need a total joint replacement, they usually try to move as little as possible simply to avoid pain. Each year surgery is delayed becomes another year of decreased physical activity. This can cause the muscles around the knee joint to weaken. When these patients finally do get a total joint replacement, having weak muscles makes their recovery time longer and more difficult. 

Risks of Physical Inactivity

Physical inactivity accounts for 8.3% of all deaths in the US. It is associated with multiple chronic diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, elevated cholesterol, etc. These are the same diseases that are associated with increasing age. When age and physical inactivity are combined, the risk of getting these diseases increases even more. 

Late Joint Replacement Risks Further Damage to the Joint

 Another reason to schedule surgery sooner rather than later is the way the joint changes over time. As osteoarthritis progresses, the joint may deteriorate so much that even total joint replacement will not give as much relief as it would have done if surgery had been performed sooner.  

Joint Replacement Improves Overall Health

Having a total joint replacement can benefit your health in ways that go far beyond the joint itself. Research has found that a person who has a total joint replacement lowers their risk of a heart attack or stroke by 40%. Joint replacement also reduces the long-term risk of death, heart failure, depression and diabetes. All of these effects have a positive effect on lifestyle. People who can move better are able to get in better shape and lead healthier, more active and independent lives.


When considering when to schedule a total joint replacement, it’s important for patients to consider, not just the factors surrounding surgery, but also the risks of continuing to put it off.