What to expect if you need joint replacement surgery

Ask the Expert

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Bon Secours St. Francis orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Jennings said joint replacement surgeries are on the rise in the United States due to an aging population. He performs 700 surgeries annually.

“Knee replacements are one of the more common procedures that are being performed in orthopedics today with well over a million being done in the United States alone,” he said. “Those numbers are increasing each year because of the aging patient population, but also because we’ve had better success with hip replacement, [so] it is now being offered at a younger age.”

Fifteen years ago, one of his patients, Sherry Adams, said she had both of her knees replaced at the same time, but that didn’t hold her back from continuing to pursue the hobbies she loves.

An avid tennis player, she was back on the tennis court after several months of dedicated physical therapy. Not long after that, she discovered a new passion, hiking, which she was able to continue through 2 hip surgeries under medical guidance.

“It hardly fazed me because I knew what the potential was to get rid of that pain,” she said.
Alongside her physical therapist, she even hiked all sections of the Appalachian Trail over the course of 13 years.

“I was just careful,” she said. “I didn’t want to injure one of those joints, so I had to do things in a different way, but it worked.”

Her orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Jennings said the goal of joint replacement surgery is to help patients get back to low-impact activities like tennis and hiking.

“It is important, not just for the strength of their muscles, but their cardiopulmonary health, for women being able to weight-bear, and for bone health to prevent osteoporosis,” he explained. “We do think being able to be mobile and social probably prevents some dementia as well, so we want them to return to as many activities as they can, but as a physician we want them to last as long as we can.”

Dr. Jennings said that joint replacement surgeries are not as scary as many think and said replacements typically last 20 years.

“It really is just a replacement of the cartilage in the joint and we preserve almost all the other normal structures around the joint including ligaments, muscles, and tendons,” he said.

Over the past year, he said that results have improved since he started to perform surgeries using robotic technology, through the medical device company Stryker.

“We can actually create a 3-D model of the knee to perform the surgery on the ‘knee’ before actually performing the surgery on the knee, so we can anticipate what the bone cuts are going to be like,” he said. If at the end of 6 months they’re doing well enough, we will release them for a 4-year period of time for them to come back and see us,” he said.

Dr. Jennings encouraged those with knee or hip pain to remember that if you feel pain or instability in your joints, it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible.

“If they’re having a problem, they should see an orthopedist,” he said. “It does not mean they’re going to have surgery. There are non-operative treatment for hip and knee arthritis and there are things we can do to help them.”

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