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When Joint Replacement May Not Help

Joint replacement may not be a good idea if you have these problems.

  • Infection. "The number one reason to avoid a joint replacement is recent infection anywhere in the body," says Nayfeh. That infection could spread to the area of the joint immediately after surgery or months later, causing serious problems -- including joint problems and further surgery.
  • Other health problems. Anyone with a history of heart attacks or strokes or with currently uncontrolled diabetes may be at increased risk for complications. People who are very obese may need to lose weight before getting a joint replacement.
  • Uncertain cause of pain. Your surgeon must be certain that the pain you feel is really caused by joint damage and that replacing the joint will help. "People can have pain that feels like joint pain, but the scans don't seem to show damage in the joint," says Nayfeh. There are lots of reasons for severe pain in the knee or hip -- such as nerve damage -- but a joint replacement won't help with them.
  • Pain when at rest but not when walking. "Joint replacements are well established for treating pain that gets worse when walking," says Nayfeh. "But people who only have pain while at rest seem less likely to benefit."

Joint Replacement: Things to Consider

Even if you meet the requirements for joint replacement surgery, here are three key questions to ask yourself.

  • Could more conservative treatment work? Joint replacement is a common, effective, and relatively safe procedure. But it does have risks and full recovery takes months. Make sure that you've tried all of the nonsurgical treatments available first.
  • Do you have help at home? It may be difficult to recover from joint surgery alone. For at least a few weeks, you'll likely need some assistance getting dressed, preparing food, changing your bandages, and moving around. If you don't have family or close friends who can help, see if there's a rehab facility where you could recover.
  • Are you committed to making changes? For a good result with joint replacement surgery, you need to commit yourself to hard work in the months before and the months after surgery. You may need to improve your lifestyle, eat healthier, quit smoking, lose weight, and exercise more.