It’s your 50th birthday and you just know it’s coming — a tacky birthday card asking whether you’ve scheduled your hip replacement yet. And you know they’re teasing, but in all seriousness, your hip has been bothering you for years. Would it be crazy to ask your doctor about joint replacement surgery? The short answer? No. More than 2.5 million people have undergone total hip replacement surgery in the U.S., and the number of procedures performed on 45-54 year olds increased 200 percent from 2000 to 2010. Dr. John Q. Smith, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and hip specialist, confirms that he’s noticed a trend at his Caldwell and Meridian practices of younger patients benefitting from hip replacement surgery. “This is largely reflective of a more active society and the desire to remain active longer,” Smith explains. “Our lifestyles have been adapted to include more rigorous demands on our bodies into our late adulthood.” Basically, we live longer than we used to. In 1950, the average American adult lived to about 68 years old. Today, the average adult lives to 78. On top of that, aging just isn’t what it used to be. More adults are remaining in the workforce into their late 60s and even 70s. In their personal time, they’re leading more active lives than ever before. Many seniors still participate in their favorite athletic activities, some are part- or full-time caregivers for energetic grandchildren. So while decades ago, a 50-year-old suffering from chronic hip pain may not have seen the benefit in a complicated surgery, a 50-year-old today might consider it a worthwhile investment in their future.
Is a Hip Replacement Right for Me?
The first thing to consider is the root cause of your hip pain. “Joint replacement surgery remains a great solution for arthritic conditions,” Smith says. “But not all chronic hip pain is necessarily due to arthritis, so determining the true cause of the pain is the first step in outlining a treatment regimen.” If the cause is arthritic in nature, he says, it’s still important for younger patients to explore non-surgical treatment options before turning to joint replacement. Those options could include anti-inflammatory pills, creams or injections; weight loss; limited activity during painful episodes; dietary supplements; or a stretching and strengthening regiment. If you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis of the hip that isn’t responding to other treatment options, the next step is to consider how a joint replacement will fit into your lifestyle.
“Artificial joints have limits. In our younger patients, we want to encourage them to remain active but they must be prepared to accept these limits,” Smith says. “High-impact activities are likely to wear or stress the components of a hip replacement and could contribute to early failure.”
But there are also upsides for younger patients considering joint replacement, especially if you’re healthy and active before the procedure. “Good mobility and strength of the joint before surgery usually leads to improved results after surgery,” he says. “In addition, younger patients typically have more strength for the rehabilitation process and better tissue healing.”
I Decided on Hip Replacement … Now What?
According to Smith, your relationship with your orthopedic surgeon can be one of the most critical factors in a successful joint surgery. From the surgeon’s perspective, there are many approaches to hip replacement, as well as different kinds of implants. Your surgeon should be able to explain these options to you in a way you understand, so you can work together to make informed decisions about your treatment and recovery plan. “It’s important to understand why and how your surgeon determines which (method) they prefer,” Smith says. “Each has its distinct advantages and disadvantages … that will determine the limits and prescriptions for rehabilitation and recovery.” Another discussion to have with your surgeon? Whether you’re looking at additional procedures in the future. Under typical conditions, Smith explains, a hip implant has about 20 years of life. At that point, plastic devices may begin to wear or metal components in the bone may loosen, making future surgery a necessity for some younger patients. But with new medical technology being developed every day, it’s possible that implants with longer lifespans may be on the horizon. In addition to high-performing metal, plastic and ceramic materials, developers are working on implants that could be customized to individual patient needs. Combined with the latest computer-aided surgical techniques, this technology is helping ensure that an active, pain-free life is within reach at any age.