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Been thinking about replacing those creaky knees or stiff hips? You’re not alone. A study in the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery estimated that the demand for first-time knee replacements will skyrocket 637 percent in the next 15 years to 3.5 million procedures, and the demand for first-time hip replacements will jump by 174 percent, to more than half a million.
The procedures are not without complications and costs, however. Infection, blood clots, and failed implants are among the risks. In addition, the younger you are when you have the surgery, the more likely it is that you’ll need another replacement in your lifetime. Plus, even with good health insurance like Medicare, you could wind up paying thousands out of pocket.
So the best thing to do is try to avoid joint replacement in the first place. Here’s how:
Lose weight. The risk of osteoarthritis of the knee is nearly four times higher in obese women and five times higher in obese men, while the risk is nearly double in people who overweight. The reason? Every 10 pounds you’re overweight puts another 30 to 60 pounds of pressure on your knees. 1
Another reason to lose weight is that if you do wind up undergoing joint replacement surgery, you’ll have a lower risk of complications and joint failure. 2 One study found that people who were obese and underwent a total knee replacement had three to nine times the rate of infection as those with a healthier weight. 3
Strengthen your muscles. The stronger the muscles that support your joints (like your quads and glutes), the less pressure on your joints.1 Think of them as your body’s own shock absorbers. You might want to start with a personal trainer to identify exercises and movements to strengthen these muscles, then practice them several times a week.
Baby your joints. That means avoiding movements and exercises that can further wear down cartilage and speed up joint decay. Running, jumping, lunging, and stair climbing fall into this category. Instead, try low-impact cardiovascular exercises like swimming and cycling.1
Give supplements a try. Although the evidence is mixed, chondroitin and glucosamine, taken alone or together, may not only improve your symptoms, including pain and swelling, but actually slow or even stop further deterioration. 4
Consider less invasive medical treatments. Steroid injections into the painful joint, ultrasound treatments, and pain medications can also help. Two treatments to stay away are from knee arthroscopy and injections of hyaluronic acid. The most recent guidelines from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons strongly recommend against them because there is no evidence that they work.
Avoiding knee or hip surgery. Harvard Health Letter. 2013;38(8):5. ↩
Vincent HK, Horodyski M, Gearen P, et al. Obesity and long term functional outcomes following elective total hip replacement. J Orthop Surg Res. 2012;7(16). ↩
Samson AJ1, Mercer GE, Campbell DG. Total knee replacement in the morbidly obese: a literature review. ANZ J Surg. 2010;80(9):595-9. ↩
Henrotin Y, Lambert C. Chondroitin and Glucosamine in the Management of Osteoarthritis: An Update. Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2013;15:361:1-9. ↩