Millions of Americans suffer with osteoarthritis, and the pain that comes with it slows them down, changes their lives for the worse and can actually help to deteriorate their overall health. Luckily, if you suffer with the pain of knee arthritis, you don’t have to continue to live with it forever. Early stages of arthritis can be treated simply with exercise, physical therapy and some over-the-counter medications. However, as the disease advances, surgeries such as partial or total knee replacements can become life-changing and life-saving procedures that will get you moving again. You might think that a knee replacement can’t possibly be that important to your overall health, but there can be very compelling reasons for you to act sooner, rather than later, to restore function to your arthritic knees. If your orthopedic surgeon has recommended knee replacement surgery, it may be in your best interest to not wait too long to schedule the procedure.
What is Knee Arthritis?
The knee joint is the largest and one of the most important joints in the body. Anyone who ever experienced knee pain understands how important a smoothly functioning knee is to every-day life. Unfortunately, arthritis of this joint can make it very difficult to continue with your normal activities in life.
Your knee joint is composed of ligaments, tendons, the end of your thigh bone, the end of your lower leg bone, and cartilage. In the normal knee, bone surfaces are smooth, there is plenty of space for movement, and cartilage along with fluids soften the blow your knee takes with each movement, acting as natural shock absorbers. When you have arthritis of the knee, the bone edges can become damaged and irregular, cartilage will become worn, the space in the joint decreases and lubricating fluid also is also changed There are many types of arthritis that can cause damage. Inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis causes chronic inflammation in your joints, which eventually erodes the knee joint. However, the most common arthritis, osteoarthritis or degenerative arthritis, affects millions of Americans and is caused by injury or by the wear-and-tear of a lifetime of activity. As you might expect, risk factors that increase your chance of osteoarthritis include getting older and participating in sports and high impact activities. Any repetitive movements that continually stresses specific joints, like running, can also contribute to injury. Finally, since this type of arthritis is related to the stress placed on joints, any extra weight throughout a lifetime can only worsen your arthritis.
When It’s Time for a Knee Replacement and Why You Shouldn’t Wait
As with many things in life, timing is everything. If you are experiencing pain in your knees that does not improve with simple solutions such as rest and ice, it’s time to seek the advice a doctor. Orthopedic surgeons have the specific expertise to identify why your knee hurts and recommend treatment. If you have exhausted all other conservative treatments, this the next available option may include a partial or a total knee replacement. In other words, your orthopedic surgeon can remove the damaged part of your knee joint surfaces and replace it with components made of special metal and plastic materials, similar to putting a crown on a tooth. The result is a smoothly functioning knee again. As with any surgical procedure, choosing the right time to get the best results is very important. So, if your orthopedic surgeon recommends knee replacement surgery, it is in your best interest to ask questions so that you understand your unique situation, then move forward with planning to avoid any untoward effects that may result from waiting. Although most patients are not causing further damage to their knee by delaying a partial or full knee replacement, it is possible for some people to wear away important portions of their normal bones or to stretch out or damage the ligaments that are needed to support the knee.
Again, your joints are important for movement and your knees are extremely important to your overall health and wellbeing. Think what happens when your knees hurt. Are you going to continue your exercise regime? Or will your life become more and more sedentary? Most likely, the latter will be true. First of all, the muscles around your knee support and protect your joint. If you decrease activity, your muscles will weaken, offering less support and providing a weaker point from which you will have to recover after you do have replacement surgery. As we age, our muscle mass can naturally decrease, so the longer one waits, the more this can become an issue. In addition, all the consequences associated with inadequate activity may come into play. For instance, less activity usually leads to weight gain. Weight gain can cause or worsen existing health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Worsening overall health can then lead to more potential surgical complications. Additionally, the added weight will put more stress on your new joint, possibly making recovery longer and more difficult and placing more stress on all your weight-bearing joints.
Another consideration to think about in putting off recommended knee replacement surgery is the toll that the pain of arthritis will take on not you’re your physical but also your emotional health. Chronic pain can be debilitating. It can also contribute to depression. It may also lead to overuse of over-the-counter pain medications which can result in more side effects, especially as you get older. If prescription medications including narcotics are necessary to control pain, this can lead to dependency and even addiction. So experts agree that timing is important in planning for knee replacement surgery. Too early may mean you’ll end up needing more surgery in the future, but too late can have debilitating effects on your overall health. So talk to your orthopedic surgeon and plan wisely based on your individual situation and needs.
If you have any more questions about knee replacement surgery, our friendly team is here to answer them. To seek the expert advice of Dr. Brett Gilbert who will address your unique concerns, contact us today by calling us at (919) 788-8797 or you can request an appointment with Dr. Gilbert using our appointment request form, or you can self-schedule your appointment here.