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Is It Wise to Delay Joint Replacement Surgery?

Patients put off joint replacement surgery for all sorts of reasons. They may be afraid of the procedure, concerned about recovery, or just unprepared to spend several weeks out of commission. But new data shows that delaying hip or knee replacement can drastically reduce the effectiveness of the procedure.

David Ayers, M.D., chair of orthopedics and rehabilitation, and his colleague, Patricia Franklin, M.D., director of clinical research for orthopedics and physical rehabilitation at UMass Medical School, analyzed the data of 17,000 orthopedic patients. The data was collected from 136 orthopedic surgeons across the United States through FORCE-TJR, a joint replacement monitoring program and database. FORCE-TJR allows patients to rate their joint paint and function after undergoing total joint replacement surgery. The patient data is then used to produce a physical composite score which represents the patient’s level of pain and function.

A patient with no joint pain or functional difficulty has a physical composite score of 50. The study showed that on average, patients who undergo joint replacement surgery experience a 12-point improvement in joint function.

Dr. Franklin explains that the average patient chooses to have joint replacement surgery when their function score is a 32. With a 12-point improvement, most patients are able to achieve a function score of 44 or greater, somewhat close to the score of a non-arthritic patient. However, nearly 20 percent of patients wait until their score is a 25 or lower. These patients typically do not experience the full 12 points of improvement. In fact, nearly 40 percent of these patients who delay surgery will only achieve a post-operative function score of 32 (Source: University of Massachusetts Medical School).

Joint replacement surgery may sound intimidating, but putting it off could be harmful in the long run. If you have concerns about joint replacement surgery, be sure to discuss them with your doctor. Waiting isn’t the answer, and it certainly isn’t worth the risk.