When to Consider Knee or Hip Surgery

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If you’re experiencing knee or hip pain, surgery or non-surgical treatments may be recommended to relieve your pain and restore your ability to participate in your everyday activities.

When Surgery is Recommended

During your consultation, your doctor will ask about the pain that you’re experiencing and will also order x-rays.

When your x-rays show "bone on bone," which means that your joint no longer has the normal cartilage that lines the inside of your joints, a joint replacement may be recommended.

Benefits of Surgery

  • After surgery, walking and regular activities with less or no pain become possible again. Full recovery can take up to 11-12 weeks.
  • You will sleep better, as the pain in your knee or hip will no longer keep you up at night.
  • For many knee replacement patients, any arthritis-like symptoms, such as bone spurs or the cracking sound that you hear when you move, will disappear.
  • For hip replacement patients, your strength will likely increase and you will be able to put more weight on your legs with less or no pain.

Risks of Surgery

Each year, tens of thousands of people benefit from having an elective knee or hip replacement, living with less or no pain, increased mobility and the ability to enjoy activities they could not enjoy prior to surgery.

However, any surgery involves risk, and your results will be specific to you.

Prior to scheduling joint replacement surgery, you will be required to get medical clearance from your doctor. Medical clearance can include taking a health history, getting a physical, lab/blood work, and sometimes clearance from a cardiologist if you are at risk for cardiac complications.

Chronic medical conditions (diabetes, hypertension, obesity, etc.) and health behavior risks (smoking and alcohol use, for example) can increase the chance of a complication during or following surgery.

Generally, joint replacements rarely have complications. Serious complications, such as joint infections, occur in less than 2% of cases, and medical complications, such as heart attack or stroke, occur less frequently.

Any concerns about the risks of your procedure should be discussed with your orthopedic surgeon before surgery.

Alternatives to Surgery

Before considering joint replacement, your doctor will most likely recommend less invasive treatments, such as outpatient physical therapy or non-surgical treatments that can alleviate pain for a period of time (this period differs from person to person).

Non-surgical treatments include:

  • Taking over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol or Motrin
  • Icing the injured area of the hip or knee
  • Seeing a physical therapist to regain strength
  • Receiving injections from your doctor

Prior to surgery, most orthopedic specialists will recommend a trial of physical therapy, chiropractic intervention, joint injections, and/or other less invasive options.

Your treatment plan will be determined by your health history, level of pain and mobility, x-ray results, and other factors that will be assessed between you, your primary care doctor and your orthopedic surgeon.

For some people, a regularly-scheduled injection in the joint or other treatments can prevent the need for surgery for an extended period of time. However, this is based on each person's response to treatments. You should always consult with your primary care provider about what your treatment options are.

When non-surgical treatments no longer relieve your pain, surgery may be recommended.