How Do You Know It’s Time for Joint Replacement?

By Winnie Yu | May 2, 2013

Judging when the benefits outweigh the risks is tricky. Here’s expert advice on making the call.

Even when your knee or hip is in chronic pain, it’s not always easy to decide whether it’s time to seek joint replacement surgery. Are you giving in too soon? Are you holding out too long? For those of us in middle age, it may seem too early to take the step, even to ease the pain of arthritis. But when your pain persists and worsens, and you’ve exhausted other options, postponing surgery might feel like torture.

The reason to opt for joint replacement is simple: You’re sick of pain. The operation can relieve pain and swelling and help you regain mobility. But timing the surgery is rarely so clear-cut. “Pain is a sensation that affects each of us differently,” says Dr. Robert Tait, an orthopedic surgeon in Henderson, Nev. “That is why the decision for joint replacement is always made by you and your surgeon together.”

Gregory Martin, medical director of the Orthopedic Institute at JFK Medical Center in Boynton Beach, Fla., agrees. “I see some patients with severe signs of arthritis on X-ray, but somehow they are leading an excellent quality of life,” he says. “Others may have early X-ray findings, yet are in terrible pain that they can’t live with.”

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