Living with hip or knee joint arthritis
Submitted by: Ingo Zirpins, MSPT 3/11/2019
Pain in the hip and knee joints can be very limiting in the pursuit of an active lifestyle. A common cause for such pains is a severe degenerative joint process called arthritis. Arthritis affects approximately 31 million Americans and is most prevalent in people older than 65. It causes the breakdown of joint surfaces and leads to pain, swelling and problems with moving the joints.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. While its general cause is unclear, family history, age, excess weight, prior injuries from falls or accidents and a history of high impact activities from sports or work can contribute to the progressive degenerative process.
As a physical therapist, I regularly encounter and help clients with complaints of chronic joint pains, especially in the knees and in the hips. These joints are some of the most tasked joints in a normal daily life. Consider that a healthy person walks, on average, 10,000 steps per day. That is 5,000 times each hip and knee joint is tasked to absorb a good portion of one’s body weight. While our joints are generally designed to absorb such stressors, an arthritic or injured joint might not.
Most people do not consult their physician immediately when increasing joint pains and limitations show up in daily life, as they hope for the pain to go away. An eventual follow-up with a physician might lead to an x-ray, a possible diagnosis of degenerative joint disease, and a referral to an orthopedic specialist.
At this point, numerous options might be offered, starting with pain management, unloading of the joint by means of supportive devices, physical therapy, possible injection therapy or surgical interventions.
Modern regenerative medicine also offers promising options via injections of plasma-rich protein (PRP), or cellular “stem cells” that are capable of forming new tissue, such as bone or cartilage. However, most insurances do not cover these procedures because they are still under clinical trials and are awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
The last resort is a joint replacement surgery, when severe joint pain or dysfunction is not alleviated by less-invasive therapies. Joint replacement surgery is a procedure in which an arthritic or dysfunctional joint surface is replaced with an orthopedic prosthesis. A study in 2014 indicated that, at that time, 7.2 million Americans were living with joint replacements of their hips or knees.
Joint replacements, when well done and cared for, show generally good success and tend to last at least 10 to 15 years for knees, and over 20 years for hips. While high-impact activities, such as running, may be too stressful on an artificial joint, most people tend to eventually return to full independence with activities such as walking, hiking, swimming, riding bikes, skiing and playing golf.
Should you find yourself limited by joint pain, you may reap significant benefits by seeking professional guidance. The benefits of preventative care should not be underestimated. Lifestyle modifications such as weight loss, decrease of high-impact activities, proper exercise guidance from your physical therapist and dietary awareness to minimize inflammation often help to mitigate pains, and might delay or even prevent the need for more radical intervention.
If you are interested in learning more specifics about hip and knee joint replacement surgeries, please join us for our upcoming workshop.
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