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When is Joint Replacement Surgery Necessary?

Written by Vincent Cannestra, MD on August 16, 2013

If your hip, knee, or shoulder is severely damaged by arthritis or injury, it may be hard for you to perform simple activities such as walking, climbing stairs, or lifting your arm. You may even begin to feel pain while you’re sitting or lying down. This pain and limited mobility are the main reasons people decide to have joint replacement surgery.

According to Vincent Cannestra, M.D. of the Midwest Bone & Joint Institute, an orthopedic surgeon, joint replacement surgery provides complete pain relief in more than 95% of patients. Within months of surgery, most patients can participate in recreational activities such as golf, skiing, doubles tennis, and hiking.

Your doctor may request tests to see how much your joint is damaged. Surgery should only be a consideration after other treatments, such as exercise, medications, and injections, have failed.

Dr. Cannestra also cites the following factors that weigh into whether joint replacement surgery is right for you:

  • Your age. The operation is safe for people of all ages. But artificial joints typically last a minimum of 15 to 20 years. Someone who is younger than age 65 may need to have a second surgery. However, this also depends on a person’s activity level, physical demands, and other factors.
  • Your health. Heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions should be under control before surgery.
  • Your commitment to recovery. For successful rehabilitation, you will need to follow a strict exercise schedule and physical therapy program for several weeks.
  • Whether lesser invasive procedures such as arthroscopy (an outpatient procedure), cartilage transplantation, or partial replacement surgery are a better option for you.
  • Recently minimally invasive surgery (MIS) has provided much of the improvement in joint replacement procedures. MIS allows smaller incisions to be made with less cutting of the muscle and tendons. This contributes to less pain and swelling after surgery and a much quicker recovery.

After Joint Replacement Surgery

“Battling stiffness, swelling, and soreness is important after surgery,” states Dr. Cannestra. “You may be encouraged to move and use your new joint the day of surgery. Immediate full weight bearing is allowed for hip and knee replacements. You’ll also be taught various exercises to improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion in your new joint.”

Pain medications will help relieve any remaining discomfort. Other complications—such as blood clots or an infection—are rare. Most people leave the hospital within two to four days after surgery. But you’ll need to continue your exercise program at home, at a rehabilitation unit, or at an outpatient physical therapy facility.

In about three weeks, you will begin to feel strong enough to drive or perform light activities. After six weeks, you’ll be able to lift heavy items or stand for longer periods of time. However, many people are able to return back to work even before this.

Gender-Specific Knee Replacement

For many years, knee replacements have been “one size fits all.” But research has proven that there are significant anatomical differences between men’s and women’s knees, specifically in terms of shape, size, and alignment. This research has led to the development of an artificial knee designed specifically for women which Dr. Cannestra has been using for years.

“This particular knee implant is shaped more like a woman’s knee in that it’s narrower and thinner in some areas than in a man’s knee replacement,” explains Dr. Vincent Cannestra. “Essentially, the manufacturer has made adjustments in their artificial knee to better fit the population that accounts for nearly two-thirds of all knee replacement procedures in the U.S.—women.”

The female-specific knee is designed to minimize pain in women following the procedure as well as maximize the amount of bending or flexion of the knee after surgery.

Vincent P. Cannestra, MD is one of the foremost total joint specialists in the Chicago area. He graduated with distinction from Northwestern University majoring in Neurobiology and Physiology. He received his medical degree in 1993 from Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago and went on to complete his orthopaedic residency at Northwestern. From 1998 to 1999, Dr. Cannestra pursued an extra year of extremely specialized training in total joint replacement and complicated adult joint reconstruction surgery at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Lukeís Medical Center in Chicago.

Schedule an Appointment with Dr. Cannestra