Joint pain isn’t life threatening, but it can lessen the quality of life. An intimidating surgery 20 years ago, joint surgery has drastically evolved and, because life expectancy has risen, is more common.

Arthritis is almost part of the natural aging process, said Dr. Raymond Chan, orthopedic trauma surgeon at Kaiser Permanente.

Knees can be worn down through strenuous physical activity, but also throughout time now that life expectancy is longer. Mentally, you might be full of zest and vigor, but your joints may not be.

“Joints wear down; it’s inevitable,” Chan said. “Especially with people living longer.”

But if you can avoid it, great. The No. 1 preventative measure, Chan said, is living a healthy lifestyle.

“Being active maintains the health of the joint and its ligaments, which otherwise typically reflect as arthritis,” Chan said.

Hip, knee, wrist and ankle pain are the most common candidates for joint surgery, but aren’t limited to just those.

Just because you experience joint pain doesn’t mean you have to get a joint replacement. Chan determines surgery candidates through a multifactorial process that gauges the level of pain, arthritic tendencies and the demand that is being put on the joint.

Chan said that surgery is intimidating, but joint surgery is practically as common as getting your tonsils removed.

“Every day there’s thousands of joint surgeries being done across the country,” he said.

Chronic diseases can be exacerbated and your range of mobility could decrease in extreme cases where joint replacement surgery is necessary.

“Bodies are meant to move,” Chan said. “And in the most pain-free way possible.”

Medical professionals’ understanding of joints is more extensive than it was 20 years ago. Chan said joint implants are meant to last 15 to 20 years and the recovery process has vastly improved.

“Recovery is almost immediate,” Chan said.” Twenty years ago, people had to stay inpatient for a week. Nowadays, it’s outpatient therapy mostly and you get to leave the hospital the same night of the surgery.”

Joint surgery isn’t the nefarious creature it used to be. You can still lead an active lifestyle well into your 80s.

“About 20 to 30 years ago, people thought they couldn’t be active after the surgery, but they can and it’s most likely even more enjoyable,” Chan said.

Like changing the tires on your car allows it to drive smoother, joint replacement surgery can leave your body feeling and moving brand-new. 

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