6 signs that it may be time to have a joint replaced

An ailing knee or a hip can make life miserable. Even if your doctor recommends it be replaced, you need to carefully weigh the risks and benefits before agreeing to this major surgery and understand that it will require significant rehabilitation to get back on your feet.

The most important factor in choosing to have a knee or hip replaced is how much it hurts and how much it is affecting your life. Here are six signals that it's time to have a knee or hip replaced:

  1. You can no longer complete routine daily tasks without help.
  2. You have significant pain, like pain that keeps you awake at night despite the use of medications, pain that keeps you from being able to walk or bend over, pain that isn't relieved by rest, or pain that isn't helped by non-surgical approaches.
  3. Your doctor says that less-complicated surgical procedures are unlikely to help.
  4. You have osteoarthritis and feel the disease is wearing you down physically, emotionally, and mentally.
  5. You are suffering severe side effects from the medications for your painful knee or hip.
  6. Tests show advanced arthritis or significant joint damage.

Finding the right surgeon and hospital can make a big difference to the success of your operation. In general, you're likely to have a better result and fewer complications if your surgeon performs the operation at least 100 times a year and operates in a hospital where replacements are routinely done.

If it's clear that joint replacement is a good choice, the questions below can help you decide whether a particular surgeon is right for you:

  • Are you board-certified in orthopedic surgery?
  • Are you fellowship trained?
  • How often do you perform this surgery?
  • What kind of results would you expect for someone in my condition?
  • May I speak with any of your patients who have had this surgery?
  • What complications occur most frequently, and how do you deal with them?
  • Do you usually work with a particular physical therapist or rehabilitation center?

For more on strategies for pain-free knees and hips and a special bonus section on knee and hip replacement, buy Knees and Hips: A Troubleshooting guide to knee and hip pain by Harvard Medical School.