Am I too young for a joint replacement?
It’s true that most people who undergo joint replacement surgery are typically over 60. But is there a “right” age for joint replacement surgery? Can you be too young for a joint replacement? Orthopedic surgeon Brian Burnikel, MD, explained what you need to know.
Is there an optimal age range for joint replacement surgery?
Dr. Burnikel said the decision about whether to have joint replacement surgery is not based on age as much as a person’s health and how the problem is affecting their quality of life.
Often, joint pain can be managed through conservative treatments such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, physical therapy, injections and bracing. “If we’ve done these things and you still are not at a level where you’re satisfied with your function and your ability to do the things you love to do, then it may be time to move on to surgery.”
Dr. Burnikel emphasized that even teenage patients aren’t considered too young for a joint replacement, if they need it! Replacement joints can be available for people as young as 13.
“If I have a young patient whose hip is so severely deteriorated that they can’t walk without using crutches, if they have nighttime pain that awakens them or if the pain is having significant impact on their life, I’m going to recommend a joint replacement,” said Dr. Burnikel. “It’s unfortunate that there are young people who need to have this type of procedure, but it does allow them to get back to pain-free activities.”
How long does a joint replacement last?
Based on current data, there’s a 90% chance that an implant is going to be functioning well for the patient in 20 years, regardless of their age.
“A lot of patients have heard the implants only last about 10 years, but that’s really not true anymore,” Dr. Burnikel said. “The hip I’m currently using now has been around about 16 years and it has been extremely successful. It has about a 99% survivorship in 15 years, which means only about 1% of those implants have failed in 15 years.”
The surgery for further replacements has also improved over the years.
Is there anything you can do to help your joint replacement last longer?
Be aware of your activity level. You can return to sports, but it might not be a good idea to start running marathons after having the surgery.
“If you want to run, bike, kayak, hike, play golf or tennis – all those things are appropriate,” Dr. Burnikel said. “But with more activity comes more wear. Throughout a normal year, we move our hip or our knee between 3 and 5 million times. So, you multiply that by 20 years and that’s a lot of cycles through range of motion on artificial material.”
It’s also important to control your weight.
If I’m not ready, how long can I delay getting a joint replacement?
Dr. Burnikel said delaying a joint replacement is fine, but it’s important to pay attention to how much range of motion you’re losing. “When a joint starts to become arthritic and painful, especially with a knee, you tend to move it less and the joint can get stiff. We can restore some of that motion with knee replacement, but if the joint has gotten extremely stiff, it’s difficult to get back to the normal range of motion function.”
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