Joint replacement surgery is the best solution for many people with joint pain, but it almost always is the last resort as far as treatment options go. Before recommending surgery, most orthopedists encourage patients to try a number of other strategies to relieve the swelling and aching associated with damaged joints.
More than 600,000 knee replacement
and 400,000 hip replacement surgeries are performed in the United States
OTC Medications. Over-the-counter supplements hyaluronic acid and glucosamine sulfate provide some people with joint pain relief. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, may also be effective in reducing pain and inflammation.
Physical Therapy. By visiting a physical therapist, some people can modify their movements and activities in a way that decreases the strain on their joints. A regimen recommended by a physical therapist can also strengthen the muscles around the joints so they can absorb some of the shock from everyday movements.
Injections. Doctors may use injections of corticosteroids, platelet-rich plasma or stem cells to help preserve the joint. While injections like corticosteroids are heavily tested and covered by insurance companies, stem-cell injections are unproven, and studies waver on their efficacy.
Cartilage Restoration. New cartilage growth can be stimulated using the body’s healing mechanism. Called microfracture, this minimally invasive procedure first removes damaged cartilage. Then, the surgeon creates a number of holes in the bone underneath the cartilage layer. This triggers a healing response, and with the blood supply restored, cartilage-forming cells return, building back the cushioning layer of the joint.
Partial Joint Replacement. This surgical technique is used when there is damage to just a small part of a joint. Rather than replacing the whole joint, surgeons repair only the portion that is damaged. Physical therapy is required with partial joint replacement.
Total Joint Replacement. When other treatments do not substantially improve joint pain and mobility, this surgical technique may help by replacing the damaged joint with a prosthetic. Physical therapy is required with total joint replacement.
For answers to questions about joint replacement, visit niams.nih.gov
With so many options, choosing between joint replacement and preservation can be that much trickier. While your doctor should be able to guide you in the right direction, consider the following factors before making your final decision.
- Age – Younger patients will likely have better luck using preservation techniques than older patients.
- Weight – If you’re overweight, losing a few pounds can sometimes eliminate your joint woes. Preservation techniques can be used to relieve the pain until you reach a healthier weight.
- Intensity – If you’re experiencing extreme pain, it may be too late to use preservation techniques.