Chronic Knee Pain: What you should know before getting it replaced

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 600,000 knee replacements are performed in the United States each year.  Some estimates put the number of knee replacement procedures in America at nearly 3.5 million by the year 2030.

More and more, people are looking to knee replacement surgery as a good option for arthritis treatment and an end to chronic pain and limited mobility.

The first thing I tell people experiencing knee pain is that each medical case is unique and that there are no absolute prescriptions for treatment.  That is why anyone experiencing pain should visit with an orthopedic specialist.  He or she can examine you and tailor a treatment protocol specific to you and your knee, taking into account your knee’s condition, the degree of pain or discomfort you are in, and your expected level of physical activity in the future.

Whether you are just now beginning to develop knee pain or have had chronic pain for some time, it’s important that you attempt non-surgical treatment options with your physician first before choosing to have surgery.  Alternatives to surgery may include one or a combination of the following: activity modifications, medications, steroid injections, or use of assistance devices.

Second, if knee replacement is being discussed, you and your doctor need to take into consideration your age.  While the patient population for knee replacement surgery has been steadily trending younger, the younger you are, the more conservative your approach to surgery should be.  Recognize that if you have knee replacement surgery in your early 50’s, you will likely need to have revision surgery at some point in your remaining lifetime.  At that time, your doctor will need to remove some or all of the original prosthesis parts and replace them with new ones.

Third, in preparation for surgery and in coordination with your primary care physician, your orthopedic surgeon should perform a complete medical workup, which should include a thorough medical examination, blood work and x-rays, to ensure you are a proper candidate for surgery.  If you have a heart condition or other risk factors to consider, it is important that your surgeon know.  Though such conditions may not exclude you from surgery, your physician needs to anticipate what complications could arise so that he or she can ensure a safe and positive outcome.

Fourth, the education of a patient is critical to ensuring a positive result.  Patients should meet with their surgeon, prior to the surgery date, to ask questions and listen to the answers.  Patients and their post-surgery support person (family member or friend) should also attend a formal pre-surgical education class if offered.  Education is the most important of all the steps leading to surgery.  Your surgeon and other trained experts will have an opportunity to hear from you and carefully answer your questions.  The more you know going into surgery, the better your outcome will be.

Finally, it is important to have realistic expectations prior to surgery.  While orthopedic surgeons have become adept at performing knee replacement surgery, and while we have reduced the amount of pain and recovery time associated with this surgery, don’t lose sight of the fact that this is a significant medical operation.  You may feel discomfort and pain in your knee in the days following surgery and your full recovery will require time, patience and rehabilitation.  You will receive medication and other treatments to help you through this but expect it to be challenging.

The good news about getting older is that chronic knee pain doesn’t have to be part of your life.  A number of proven treatment options now exist and are available to you, up to and including knee replacement surgery.  If you have knee pain, visit a trained orthopedic specialist and get back to living a life that is active and pain free.

Robert Young, MD, is a Board-certified orthopedic surgeon with more than 30 years’ experience.  He is a credentialed member of St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea’s medical staff and sees patients in the Ypsilanti and Canton offices of Orthopedic Surgery Associates.  His areas of expertise include arthritis, joint replacement of the hip and knee, trauma surgery, and sports medicine.

Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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