"How long will my new joint last?"
Is the question that's top-of-mind for almost anyone considering total joint replacement. Until 10 - 15 years ago, the best guess in the medical community was 8 to 10 years, a time frame that often influenced when a patient chose to have their surgery done. Delaying surgery as long as possible seemed reasonable to some people, since that might make a second joint replacement unnecessary in their lifetime. Times...and thinking...have changed.
Revising conventional wisdom
In estimating how long a new joint will last it's helpful to look back as well as forward. Charles Burrows, MD, a Doylestown Hospital orthopaedic surgeon, says that 9 out of 10 people who have had a total knee replacement and more than 75 percent of people who have had total hip replacement can expect their joint to last 20 years or longer. A fascinating aspect of these statistics is that they include people as far back as the 1980s. In other words, the original prediction of an 8 to 10 year procedure lifespan has proven to be wrong for many people, and it's certainly not valid for most people undergoing total joint replacement today.
"Today, we're all looking for the 30-year hip or knee," says Dr. Burrows, "and there have been many advances that make this seem like a reasonable expectation. But history has taught us that we won't really know until 2038."
Seeking a quicker return to life
Among the advances are better materials used in making artificial joints, better design of these joints, and today's precise surgical techniques. Another major difference between total joint replacement today and in years past is a more active approach to rehabilitation, which has an immediate impact on how quickly patients get back on their feet following surgery. "Patients used to be immobilized in a cast for up to two weeks after joint replacement," says Dr. Burrows. "Now we have them up the day after surgery, sitting in a chair. This push toward rapid mobility results in a quicker return to active life."
That is exactly what many of today's joint replacement candidates want to hear. Having exhausted non-surgical options like medication and physical therapy, men and women with painful, worn-out joints are seeking longer -term relief at younger ages than ever before. "The average age for total knee replacement in my practice is between 55 and 60 years old," states Dr. Burrows
For many patients, the 'right time' to have joint replacement surgery is no longer governed mainly by how long a prosthetic joint is expected to last. "The main issue for most patients is how functional they are," says Dr. Burrows. It's a personal decision based on lifestyle, expectation, and overall medical condition - and it's a decision being made today at almost any age.
Dr. Charles Burrows is with Mackell Cody Burrows Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine