Are you too stiff to move? Too achy to keep up with the daily routine? Maybe you’re also too reluctant to seek help for that bothersome knee or hip. Arthritis happens – even to people in midlife – but it doesn’t have to get in your way. If a problem knee or hip is interfering with your life, take action.
Fifty and feelin’ fine
“Age is not a good indicator anymore of who should consider joint replacement due to arthritis,” explained Dr. Ken Kleist of ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “About half of all hip and knee replacements in the United States are for people under 65. More people in their 40s, 50s and 60s want to be active, longer. They don’t want limitations.”
David Schroeder of Menasha is a new man at age 53 thanks to two new knees in the last two years. An avid golfer, swimmer and high school girls’ basketball coach, David lived with bone on bone rubbing in his knees for years. “I couldn’t do what I wanted to do,” he recalled. “Walking hurt, exercising was painful. Pain woke me in the middle of the night. When I was 50, my daughter pointed out that I was still young and I needed to enjoy life now. I thought I had to wait, but she made me realize I was missing out.”
Do what you can
The joint replacement journey begins with practical steps. Extra weight causes stress on joints, so weight loss is often a good beginning for alleviating pain and gaining better function. “Even a loss of 10 pounds can make a difference,” Dr. Kleist said.
Physical therapy to strengthen muscles often helps, as does over-the-counter pain relief. For many patients, steroid injections provide relief and the opportunity to postpone joint replacement surgery. Barb Buechel, 62, of Kaukauna wanted to put off surgery as long as possible. “Steroid injections helped a lot at first,” she said. “The pain was excruciating – I couldn’t even work in my kitchen much less at my job. After I had a knee scope, my physical therapist at ThedaCare Orthopedic Care told me I would have a knee replacement someday. He advised me to get as strong as I could so I would go through surgery better. So, I worked hard on my knee and quad exercises. When it was time to consider replacement, I worked with my team at ThedaCare, and I was ready.”
A guest for life
Arthritis is not reversible. Even healthy steps that help reduce pain and increase function – weight loss, exercise, injections, scopes – may have short-term results. Arthritis often becomes a chronic, degenerative condition that may feel better, then feel worse. The key is to do everything you can to develop healthy joints, and then see a doctor if joint pain or loss of function is detracting from what you want to do.
“Patients are the best judge of the timing of treatment,” said Dr. Robert Wubben of Orthopaedic Specialists in Neenah. “Osteoarthritis is not difficult to diagnose, but it often requires lifestyle adjustments and patient education. Joints are meant to be used. They don’t wear out over time like a mechanical device. Once patients understand the right exercises, the importance of weight loss and the treatment options, they are in the driver’s seat. We provide expert, individualized care so they make the choice that’s right for them.”
Patients of all ages benefit from advances in plastics technology that are producing better replacement knees and hips. A knee replacement should last between 15 and 20 years, and a hip replacement should last about 15 years. “I’ve known patients who actually forget which hip they had replaced,” said Dr. Kleist. “Most people remember which knee they had done, but they are very happy they did it.”
A happy change
For patients like David and Barb, a new knee made a world of difference. While the 12- week recovery can be challenging, the end result is worth it.
“I can go sledding and play softball with my grandchildren, easily get out of a chair, operate the clutch and brake pedals on the tractor, hike, snowmobile, manage stairs and do regular household tasks,” Barb said. “I can pick up a grandchild – I couldn’t do that before. I got my life back!”
David’s experience is similar. “I’m doing wonderfully,” he said. “I can do what I want to do without pain. I feel great. I can work and manage my family life, and I can golf, swim and coach. Coaching is my real passion, and now I’m back in the game.” That’s what joint replacement is all about. It’s not just a recovery, it’s a comeback.