Joint replacement surgery can significantly improve your quality of life if you suffer from daily joint pain. But it shouldn't necessarily be the first option. Here are some things you should know if you're thinking you might need joint replacement surgery. 

Why should I consider getting joint replacement surgery? 

If you find that you experience chronic joint pain as a result of arthritis or an injury, joint replacement surgery can significantly increase your quality of life. Being able to move freely and easily is not only beneficial for your physical health as you age, but it can have a dramatic effect on your mental health as well. 

However, if your joint pain is new or infrequent—only appearing after strenuous exercise sessions or with certain movements—there are more conservative options to try first, either on your own or with a medical provider. 

Is joint replacement surgery my only option? 

Joint replacement surgery would ideally be your last option when looking to manage joint pain. Some other options you can try at home include: 

  • icing the affected area to reduce swelling and inflammation 
  • using over-the-counter assistive devices, such as braces or wraps 
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can be taken as described on the packaging for a limited time 
  • reduce activities that bring on the pain as much as possible 

If these initial at-home remedies are not effective, talk with your healthcare team about working with a physical therapist, or the possibility of corticosteroid injections. They may also work with you to develop a plan for weight management or lifestyle changes. 

There are also wonderful resources online from the Arthritis Foundation, including a healthy eating guide which can help decrease whole-body inflammation and help with arthritis flares. The American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons (AAHKS) patient education page also has information regarding home physical therapy exercises. 

What are some risks of joint replacement surgery? 

Any surgery comes with some risk, and that includes arthroplasty surgery. Potential risks include but are not limited to: 

  • infection 
  • blood clots 
  • nerve damage 
  • reactions to anesthesia 

Many of the risks are rare, however. One study of nearly 80,000 patients found that only two percent of patients developed an infection within 90 days after their surgery. Another study of the 1.5 million joint replacement surgeries in the United States in one year found that deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism only occurred in 0.6 to 3 percent of the surgeries. 

As with any medical procedure, it's imperative that you speak with your surgeon about the risks associated with your particular procedure, including any factors of your medical history that may present an added risk. 

What else do I need to think about before joint replacement surgery?

Again, as with any other surgery, you and your doctor need to discuss the long-term implications of surgery. While we are seeing an increase in younger patients getting joint replacement surgery due to injuries, many patients are older and are considering joint replacement to offset arthritis pain. Talk with your doctor or orthopedic surgeon about what type of rehabilitation you will need before and after joint replacement surgery, as well as any assistance you may need once you are discharged from the hospital. 

At the Total Joint Center, we want our patients to feel fully informed about all of their options around reducing or eliminating their joint pain. We provide a range of patient education materials and resources before and after any arthroplasty procedures and work with them to design a personalized journey to return to pain-free movement. For more information about our program, visit our website or call 401-793-5852.

Eric M. Cohen, MD

Dr. Eric Cohen is the program director of the Total Joint Center at The Miriam Hospital. He is an adult reconstructive and trauma orthopedic surgeon at Lifespan Orthopedics Institute.