There are a lot of factors patients consider when deciding when to get a total joint replacement of a hip or knee. While pain is usually the primary consideration, it is not the only one. Other factors include:
- Overall health
- Weight loss concerns
- The time needed off work for surgery and recovery
- The risks of surgery
- Smoking Cessation is crucial
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 much 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 benefits of the procedure.
Each year that surgery is delayed becomes another year of decreased physical activity. Physical inactivity is estimated to account 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.
As osteoarthritis slowly develops, many patients become more and more inactive without ever realizing how little they actually move. As they become used to putting fewer and fewer demands on their body, they may not consciously feel less healthy, overall, than they did before developing osteoarthritis. In the meantime, the negative consequences of inactivity continue to accumulate.
To make matters worse, as people age, they increase the risk of developing other chronic illnesses associated with aging. Many of these diseases are the same diseases associated with physical inactivity. If these chronic conditions develop, they may 1) increase the risk of total joint replacement surgery 2) decrease the patient’s mobility after surgery, and 3) prolong the patient’s recovery.
A third factor is the change within the joint itself. As the patient’s osteoarthritis progresses, their joints may deteriorate so much that even total joint replacement will not give as much relief as it would have done if performed sooner.
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.