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You Don't Have to Postpone Your Joint Replacement During COVID-19

May 20, 2020 - Katie McCallum

A life changing event like the COVID-19 pandemic can take your mind off a few things — maybe even your joint pain. But the pain isn't actually gone. If your joint pain is debilitating and/or persistent, it's probably already creeping back to the forefront of your mind — especially if the nonsurgical measures used to manage it, including creams, exercise, physical therapy and injections, provide you with little relief.

The reality is that, even without the stress of a pandemic, people often wait far too long to consider a more permanent solution to their severe or persistent joint pain — joint replacement.

"By the time people get to a conversation about joint replacement, they have pain on a daily basis and it's occupying a disproportionate part of their lives," says Dr. Christopher Smith, orthopedic surgeon at Houston Methodist West Hospital. "It's the kind of pain that leads them to become less active, whether athletically or socially, and many people get to the point where the pain becomes such a big part of their lives they become unhappy."

While many people would rate their joint pain as difficult and debilitating, they often view surgery as a last-resort treatment. Don't let fear of joint surgery — or coronavirus — keep you from doing something about your joint pain. Below, Dr. Smith debunks some of the most common misconceptions about joint replacement.

Short-term postsurgery discomfort beats lifelong debilitating pain

Most people who need joint replacement typically reach the point where they're ready to do it, regardless of what's been holding them back.

"I schedule a follow-up visit with every patient one year after joint replacement surgery, and, during this visit, I commonly hear, 'I wish I had done this sooner,'" Dr. Smith says.

Recovery doesn't take as long as it used to

Surgical technique and technology improvements have reduced recovery time, making joint replacement surgery more efficient, predictable and less painful. This means people not only regain function more rapidly after surgery, but data also shows that patients usually return to their jobs within six weeks.

"We're also better controlling patients' pain before, during and after surgery with new medications and using older medications a bit differently, depending on the patient's needs," says Dr. Smith.

New technology means longer-lasting artificial joints

Joint durability improves as technology advances. Today, an artificial joint's life expectancy generally matches that of the person, and most people never need a second joint replacement.

"In addition, orthopedic surgeons at Houston Methodist perform more than 4,000 joint replacements each year, predominantly knees and hips," explains Dr. Smith. "This volume of work translates into high levels of experience and success rates."

A joint replacement is still safe during the COVID-19 pandemic

As COVID-19 cases began to rise in the Houston area, and in accordance with the orders from the governor, we delayed many joint surgeries until we had a better understanding of the trajectory of the outbreak. During this time, we continued to provide safe, effective care for many non-COVID-19 patients who needed urgent medical care.

Now that coronavirus cases have plateaued, we are confident that we can safely resume joint replacements. While this new virus will continue to be among us for some time, know that we will continue to place your safety as our highest priority.

If you're considering a joint replacement, know that our hospitals and clinics are safe and taking extra precautions, including:

  • Requiring all patients, visitors and employees to wear masks
  • Screening patients and employees upon arrival
  • Isolating COVID-19 patients from other patients, allowing us to treat everyone safely
  • Practicing social distancing in our waiting rooms
  • Utilizing video visits to reduce patient traffic
  • Increasing housekeeping and vigilance in our disinfection protocols
  • Testing every patient for COVID-19 prior to surgery

"There's not necessarily a medical rush to have a joint replaced. However, the decision to proceed with joint replacement — sooner than later — will eliminate the pain and suffering of a prolonged waiting period," explains Dr. Smith.

The new coronavirus is going to be with us for some time, and your doctor can help you understand if a joint replacement is right for you, as well as discuss any fears or concerns you may have about the procedure or timing.

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