Q&A: Understanding Joint Pain and Knee Replacement Surgery

Whether caused by arthritis, an injury or just general wear and tear, joint pain can greatly impact a patient’s ability to walk and enjoy an active lifestyle. While there are a number of steps that can be taken to manage the level of pain and provide relief, patients may eventually need to consider knee replacement surgery.

“It really is a quality of life procedure and that’s when people usually elect to have their surgery,” said Dr. Robert Olive, Jr. with the CHI St. Vincent Orthopedic Clinic in Hot Springs and Hot Springs Village. “When it gets to the point where you can’t get on the floor and play with your grandkids or you can’t get up and down the stairs, then it’s time to consider something like that.”

Hospitals perform more than 790,000 knee replacement surgeries each year in the United States according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Knowing when it’s time to undergo knee replacement surgery can be a challenge for many patients. Dr. Olive answered some of the most common questions he gets about that decision-making process.

What is the most common cause of joint pain?

“It all boils down to arthritis and that can come from a number of factors. Trauma, excessive weight, wear and tear, all those things kind of go into it. Arthritis isn’t something that grows on the knee. It’s the wearing down and absence of the cartilage in the knee.”

If you have arthritis in your knee, is that a sign that you need knee replacement?

“It’s important that someone has advanced arthritis before we operate on them, because we want to make sure that we’ve exhausted every option and done everything we can, but just having arthritis in your knee is not an indication that surgery is needed. We don’t operate on X-rays, we operate on people. If a patient isn’t hurting from their arthritis, there’s no reason to put them through a surgery.”

How important is the doctor-patient relationship when it comes to deciding whether or not knee replacement surgery is necessary?

“It all starts with that relationship. We want to go through the whole history of what brought this on, how the pain has progressed over time and any treatments they may have already received. We don’t ever want to have a patient undergo knee surgery until we’ve tried everything we can to manage that pain.”

How has knee replacement changed over the years?

“The parts that we put in a patient’s knee haven’t changed that much. It’s the pre-op care and the post-op care. We get everything tuned up before a patient ever comes in for surgery and while the implants haven’t changed that much, the instruments and the way we put them in help us balance things in such a way that the joints perform with equal tension through a whole range of motion.

Why is it important to have a continuity of care with patients from the beginning of their arthritis journey all the way through knee replacement surgery and recovery?

“We don’t just put the knee in and that’s the end of it. The knee requires a lot of rehab after surgery and if you don’t work hard at it, you’ve wasted your time with the surgery. Physical therapy is the key to getting the strength and range of motion back in the knee after having a replacement.”

To learn more about knee replacement surgery and the wide range of services provided by our team of orthopedic specialists, visit chistvincent.com/orthopedics.