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Is Joint Replacement for You?

Joint replacement may be the right choice if you're in a lot of pain and other treatments haven't helped enough. But you want to be sure the joint is the true source of pain, says Michaela M. Schneiderbauer, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "The source could be something other than the joint itself, even if arthritis is visible on an MRI."

If you actually have nerve or muscle pain, a joint replacement won't help, Schneiderbauer says. Your doctor can tell the difference by doing a careful physical exam and by asking you questions about your pain. "Be cautious if a doctor tells you you need a hip or knee replacement without doing a physical exam," she adds.

Realistic Expectations

A joint replacement can cure pain, but it can't restore the hip or knee you had when you were younger. People shouldn't expect to move the joint the way they did 20 or 30 years ago, Schneiderbauer says.

As for Pepper, he went forward with his knee replacement. After four months of intense rehabilitation, the pain was gone. He's back to speed-walking and climbs 100 steps every day to keep his knee strong. On a recent vacation to Italy and Croatia, he wore a pedometer. "There were times when I comfortably walked 7 miles in a day," he says. "It feels like my knee now."

Pepper's advice: Consider a joint replacement "if pain is interfering with how you want to live your life."