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Osteoarthritis: Is Hip Or Knee Replacement Right For You?

Seniors--kneesBy Antonio J. Webb, MD

Multiple studies have shown that African Americans are less likely to receive hip or knee replacements for osteoarthritis than Hispanics or Caucasians. Additional studies have looked at why. The most common reasons being that African Americans were less likely to be familiar with joint replacement surgery, have lower expectations, more concerns about post operative pain and recovery, and less likely to have a friend or family who have had a joint replacement. One particular study also showed that African Americans were more likely to report believing and using prayer to self-treat knee or hip pain.

Here is what you need to know about osteoarthritis and when you should be expected to be offered a hip or knee replacement by your doctor.

What is Osteoarthritis?
Arthritis is not a single disease but is a way to refer to joint pain or joint disease. Arthritis affects nearly 50 million adults and is the most common cause of disability in the US. There are 100 types of arthritis, with osteoarthritis being the most common. Others include rheumatoid arthritis, septic arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. Osteoarthritis, also called “wear and tear arthritis,” occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones within joints gradually wears away. Although osteoarthritis can damage any joint in your body, the disorder most commonly affects joints in your hands, knees, hips and spine.

The most common symptom is pain in your joints after repetitive movements. Other symptoms include decreased range of motion, muscle aches and pain, tenderness and difficulty moving the joint. The symptoms may be mild, moderate or severe and may stay the same for years or may progress and get worse over time.

Treatment Options 
There is no cure for osteoarthritis but staying active and maintaining a healthy weight may slow progression of the disease and help improve pain and joint function. Non-operative (meaning non surgical) options are often tried first. These include pain medications, steroid injections, bracing and physical therapy.

When is Surgery Warranted?
When all other non-surgical options have failed over a period of time, then surgery may be warranted. Surgery may entail having a part of your knee or hip replaced (partial joint replacement) or the entire knee or hip replaced (total joint replacement).

What You Can Do
Keep a list that includes a detailed description of your symptoms (when they first started, how they affect your daily life) and what you have tried in terms of medications and/or therapy. In addition, include information about your medical problems and what medications you take. Be sure to include questions that you want to ask the doctor at your appointment. Be prepared to discuss with your doctor your expectations, the recovery, and what you should expect before and after surgery.

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