Jerry Wade used to love bird-watching with his wife, an avid birder. "I'm not a birder myself, but I like being active and getting out there with her," he says. "Bird-watching puts you into natural areas and some rough terrain -- it's not an easy physical activity."
But in the fall of 2005, the 66-year-old Columbia, Mo., resident, who had retired in 2000 from a career in community development, started noticing "pains and twinges" in his knees. A visit to his doctor in January 2006 brought the diagnosis:...
"Knee replacement surgery is not like getting a tire change at a NASCAR pit stop," says orthopedic surgeon David Lewallen, MD, at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester. "It's a major procedure and isn’t something that has to be done unless your symptoms can't be controlled with simpler measures."
How to Make a Decision
If you are considering a new knee, think it through carefully.
Pain, swelling, and stiffness. It might be time for surgery if it hurts so much when you walk or go up and down stairs that it's hard to get through your day. Another sign is that your knee is painful at night or even when you're resting.
Other treatments didn't work. "We always try to start with simpler things first and move to more complicated solutions," Lewallen says. That means before you get surgery, you've probably already tried anti-inflammatory drugs or cortisone shots for pain and swelling, physical therapy, and maybe even weight loss.
Knee deformity. "Do you notice you're becoming bowlegged or knock-kneed or your knee won't go straight anymore?" says orthopedic surgeon Claudette Lajam, MD, of the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. "It's usually a giveaway when that starts to happen."
Quality of life. If your pain limits what you can do every day, you may want to talk to a surgeon. "It's about timing," says Charles Nelson, MD, chief of joint replacement at Penn Orthopaedics in Philadelphia. "People think surgery when symptoms are bad enough that they're not functioning to their satisfaction."
When Knee Surgery May Not Be for You
Infections. Make sure you get them treated before surgery. For instance, take care of gum infections. It will lower the chance of getting an infection in your new knee.