Dr. Ted Parcel, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Novant Health Orthopedics and Sports Medicine - Brunswick, hopes you don’t need him. But if you do need a knee or hip replacement, he wants you to know: The procedure and the recovery are much easier than you might imagine.
“Some people brush off seeing a doctor about joint pain because they hope it will just go away,” he said. “They may wait until the pain is debilitating – until they’re having trouble doing essential things, like getting dressed – before seeking help.”
First things first
Patients want to avoid surgery. So does Parcel. “We’ll try medications, injections, maybe a brace and physical therapy before we talk about surgery,” he said. In some cases, weight loss may be the first thing doctors recommend. “Losing just a few pounds can take a lot of stress off a joint,” he said.
A cortisone injection is another good place to start, and its effects can last for three or four months. Some patients get cortisone injections indefinitely. And there’s nothing wrong with that approach, Parcel said. However, the injections may become less effective over time. When they lose their effectiveness, it may be time to discuss surgery.
Better, faster, stronger
When surgery is needed, it generally requires just a one-night hospital stay. Some joint replacements can even be performed as outpatient surgery.
When a patient needs both knees replaced, Parcel will often do both in one go. Hip replacement is more complicated, he said. If a patient needs two new hips, that will probably involve two separate procedures.
Implants are made to last longer now. It wasn’t that long ago when patients were told to expect another knee or hip replacement within 10 years. Now, an implant can last 20 years or more. Patients typically have X-rays every year or two to track wear and tear.
Recovery is faster than it once was. “Patients generally start off on a walker after surgery and then move to a cane,” Parcel said. “They may need a cane from days to a few weeks. Most people are back at work in six to eight weeks.”
“Patients are often surprised by how fast they’re back on their feet and back to their regular lives,” he said. “They often tell me, ‘I wish I’d done this sooner.’”
Who needs it?
The most common reason people need a new hip or knee is arthritis, Parcel said. Other reasons include prior surgery or injury. Most candidates for surgery are 45 and older, but Parcel has performed a total hip replacement on a patient in her 20s. In that case, the condition was something the patient was born with. “This surgery changed her life,” the surgeon said.
Younger patients who have a joint replacement may require a replacement sooner than the 20 years typical for most. “Younger patients tend to put more demand on their implants,” Parcel explained.
What about COVID-19?
People who had delayed addressing joint pain because of a fear of surgery and a long recovery are now delaying for another reason: the coronavirus. “We have a lot of retirees who live here at the beach,” Parcel said. “And North and South Carolina have been hot spots recently, so people have been skittish.”
While elective surgeries were put on hold from mid-March through April, surgeons are now back to performing hip and knee replacements and other procedures.
“Every candidate for surgery at Novant Health is tested for COVID before surgery,” he said. “If a patient tests positive and surgery is medically necessary, we have protocols to enhance safety for the patient and medical staff.”
“We’re taking extreme precautions – not just in the OR but in our office, too,” he said. “Chairs in the waiting room are spaced apart. The front door and interior doorknobs are wiped down throughout the day.”
Hospitals, ERs and medical clinics are safe. If you need medical care, don’t delay.
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