Hip or knee pain often comes on gradually and worsens over time. For some, the issue can become a long-term problem that affects quality of life.
“A common reason for people to visit their doctor is musculoskeletal pain, and that pain can arise for various reasons,” says Dr. David Liebelt, a fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon with ThedaCare. “Commonly, as we age, our joints start to deteriorate.”
You might know someone who has had a hip or knee replacement, but determining whether joint surgery is right for you can be overwhelming.
Dr. Liebelt says when you reach the point where you are suffering with pain, disabled, or unable to do activities that make you happy, it’s time to seek care. That can start with a visit to your primary care provider or an orthopedic surgeon.
If you do see an orthopedic surgeon, that specialist will assess your unique circumstances and offer personalized recommendations. Those don’t always include surgery.
“When you’re seeing a surgeon in the office, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have surgery. It means that you’re getting an expert’s opinion on what you’re experiencing,” Dr. Liebelt says.
Many patients Dr. Liebelt sees are frustrated because they can no longer do what they love. When that’s the case and when other treatments aren’t working, joint replacement surgery can become an option, he says. These procedures can lead to decreased pain and improved mobility.
What is joint replacement surgery?
Chronic hip and knee pain often stem from injury or age-related osteoarthritis. Arthritis is natural wear and tear that happens to everyone, Dr. Liebelt says. People might experience pain, stiffness, heat or inflammation.
Hip and knee replacement surgeries both involve removing damaged cartilage. “If your pain really is stemming from that cartilage wearing out, a surgical solution would be to remove the cartilage,” Dr. Liebelt says.
In joint replacement surgery, the surgeon removes the diseased or worn-out cartilage and replaces it with a synthetic material — such as metal, plastic or ceramic — that’s shaped like the cartilage was when it was healthy.
Joint replacements take about 90 minutes to perform. Patients typically will have surgery in the morning or afternoon and return home that same day, but some may need to stay in the hospital for one to two nights.
The new ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain includes 25 inpatient beds, and Dr. Liebelt says providing all needed services in one facility offers benefits.
“Going to one place for diagnosis, treatment and recovery is very helpful to patients,” he says.
Choosing the right surgeon
When it comes to selecting a surgeon, Dr. Liebelt recommends finding one who focuses specifically on hip and knee replacements.
“Most hip and knee surgeries are performed by surgeons who don’t exclusively perform hip and knee replacements, so a fellowship-trained, high-volume hip and knee specialist is a benefit to a patient,” he says.
Fellowship-trained surgeons often deliver better, more predictable results and are trained to use cutting-edge technologies. For example, Dr. Liebelt uses a robotic-assisted surgery tool called ROSA in some procedures.
Throughout his years in practice, Dr. Liebelt has helped countless patients find better mobility.
“Some people aren’t able to garden. Some people aren’t able to walk. Some people are just missing getting down on the floor and playing with their grandkids. When a successful hip or knee replacement allows someone to get back to those things, it’s a very rewarding feeling,” he says.