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Published on July 20, 2021

woman with knee pain

Joint Replacement Stops Arthritis Pain

The progressive pain of arthritis is something more than 80 million Americans face every day as it nags at their knees and saps their spirits with its aches and discomforts.

While patients may battle these symptoms, sometimes for years, joint replacement surgery can “win” that fight once and for all.

Thomas Ambrose II, MD, FACS, orthopedic surgeon of Avera Orthopedics – Sioux Falls, said when the treatment protocols such as anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy and joint injections fail, it’s time to consider the definitive treatment of arthritis.

“The other steps are merely Band-Aid options that merely address the symptoms; joint-replacement surgery is the only treatment that addresses the disease of osteoarthritis, which makes up about 80 to 90 percent of the arthritis patients we see,” he said. “Arthritic joints have lost the protective cartilage, and that’s where the pain comes from. Joint replacement surgery allows us to address the arthritic joint surfaces with new metal and plastic surfaces.”

Ambrose explained that while cartilage has no nerves, bones have a rich nerve ending network and that when bones rub in a knee joint, that’s the pain arthritis sufferers know too well. After a joint replacement, that pain is gone.

There’s some recovery time and pain from the surgery itself, but the underlying problem is addressed.

“There is often minimal discomfort and most patients are up and walking on the day of their surgery,” he said. “Most go home the next day. That’s why we try to educate more people who are suffering from this pain that there are surgical options that can help them. You’re the patient suffering the pain and the limits in your life that come with osteoarthritis.”

Age Range and Positive Change

Most patients who have joint replacements are in the 55-80 age range, although there are some exceptions. More people in their 40s who continue to run, bike and play organized sports for longer periods of their lives and may experience arthritis earlier, and then need joint replacement surgery at younger ages.

Ambrose said in most cases, a replaced joint will last from 15-25 years and that a non-operative osteoarthritis management process must occur – and fail – prior to many insurance providers covering the cost of the surgery in full.

“That process can be a few month or several years, but there are some severe cases where X-ray evidence shows that the joint replacement is the best next step,” Ambrose said. “Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, so no matter what we do short of joint replacement, the underlying issue may still lead to pain.”

If you’re like many patients Ambrose sees, you’re likely to wonder what limits come with a new knee. He said running, jumping and sky-diving are off limits, but that many people realize the improvement of their overall well-being that comes with the replacement of a knee or other joint.

“We see about a 4-to-1 ratio of knee to hip replacements and they can really help those who suffer from this disease,” he said. “We are not sure why some people get arthritis and others do not. But replacing the joint is the best way to definitively treat the progressive pain that so many people experience.”

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