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Before you consider surgery

Causes of joint pain and damage

Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of joint pain, affecting about 27 million Americans every year. This condition, sometimes referred to as "wear and tear" arthritis, occurs when:

  • Bones, and cartilage that protects them, wear down.
  • Bones rub against each other and cause pain.
  • Muscles and ligaments that support the joint become stiff and sore.

Osteoarthritis knee and hip

Other conditions may also cause joint damage including:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Injury
  • Birth defects

How is joint damage diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will do a physical exam and take X-rays of your affected joint(s) after discussing your symptoms. He or she is looking for:

  • Decreased range of motion
  • Swelling and/or pain around the joint
  • Cracking or popping in the joint

Non-surgical treatment options

There are many non-surgical treatment options to try before total joint replacement surgery. Discuss each of the following with your provider to determine which are best for your specific needs:

  • Physical therapy
  • Injections
  • Pain medicine
  • Rest and modifying activity
  • Weight loss

Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis Decision chart

Benefits of total joint replacement surgery

Some people are unable to achieve pain relief with non-surgical options. For those individuals, total joint replacement surgery may be the answer. You may achieve some or all of these benefits after you recover from surgery:

  • Feel less pain
  • Have improved mobility
  • Maintain your independence
  • Perform daily routines without help from others
  • Be active again except for high-impact sports
  • Sleep better

About 90 in every 100 people who have total knee replacement surgery say it leads to relief of most or all of their pain.

About 87 in every 100 people say they are very satisfied with how total hip replacement surgery improved their level of pain.

Source: EbscoHealth

Lifestyle changes before surgery

For the best chance of a successful surgery and recovery, we recommend that you:

  • Stop smoking – The risk of some complications of joint replacement surgery is higher if you use tobacco or nicotine replacement products. For example, nicotine in your system can affect the healing process. We advise you to stop using either product for as long as you can before and after surgery. Talk with your surgeon or primary care provider about ways to meet this challenge.
  • Maintain a healthy weight – If you have a body mass index (BMI) over 40, it is best to lose some weight before surgery. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are the best things you can do both now and after surgery.
  • Control chronic health problems – Controlling chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, will help reduce your risk of infections and other complications. We recommend you have an A1c less than 8. Work with your primary care provider to control any chronic health conditions.
  • Take good care of your teeth and mouth – Schedule a dental exam within three months of surgery. Severe gum disease, an abscess or other oral infection could delay surgery. The soonest you can have your teeth cleaned after surgery is three months – that’s why we recommend you do it before surgery.

Other considerations before surgery

A positive outcome depends on more than a skilled surgeon. As you consider total joint replacement surgery, here are some preparations you’ll need to make in advance:

  • Prepare to be discharged from the hospital the day after surgery.
  • Have a "recovery buddy" available to help you for one to two weeks after surgery. This person must be physically able to help you: prepare meals and do other activities in your home, help you bathe, and help you put on and take off a special leg wrap that controls swelling.
  • Arrange for rides to post-operative appointments, lab tests and physical therapy (knee patients only).
  • Prepare your home for safe set-up.
  • Strengthen and train your muscles, using the exercises you are shown during the Total Joint Academy.

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System delivers great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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