Finding out that the strange pain in your knee, hip, low back, or thigh is caused by hip or knee arthritis is almost always an unnerving and unsettling experience. It’s usually followed by a list of treatments and options available to you – most of which are lost in the haze of the unexpected diagnosis and forgotten by the time you manage to get back home.

Arthritis? Me? 

That can’t possibly be right or be my problem because …. (insert one of many reasonable explanations we come up with in our disbelief). Chief among these explanations is “but I’m too young”.

Many patients run through this same talk track after visiting with their surgeon. The reality, of course, is that hip and knee arthritis affect people of all ages, both the young and the old.

Wondering how your age affects both your diagnosis and treatment options is common. This article is for all of you with new diagnosis of hip or knee arthritis that are wondering if you are, in fact, too young.

 

Average age for arthritis

The question of being too young has several components.

Most obvious is that you really are not too young. The sheer number of patients seeking treatment for hip and knee arthritis has been increasing substantially since the 1980s. In that decade, the most common age peeked in the late 70’s and overall patient numbers were low. With each subsequent decade, that average age has decreased. We are currently seeing an average age in the late 60’s with dramatically higher overall patient numbers.

This means that the number of patients of many ages with this health problem are all dramatically higher.  It’s not uncommon for me to see patients that need surgery in their 40’s and certainly even more common to see patients in their 50s. So, if you’re in that age range, you are in good company and are certainly not alone in dealing with hip or knee arthritis.

Another component of feeling too young for hip or knee replacement is concern for how long the replacement will last. Unfortunately, there is no way to know how long any implant will last. There are several variables that can affect longevity, including but not limited to a patient’s weight, activity level, willingness to follow their surgeon’s instructions, and other medical conditions and general health. While Implants are intended to substitute bone or tissue to restore motion and relieve pain, they are generally not a capable of withstanding forces placed on healthy, human bone. Like healthy bone and tissue, implants can wear out with use over time.

Talk to a ROC Specialist about the implants they plan to use and what they think you can expect from them.

Many patients wonder what they can do to improve the lifespan of their hip or knee replacement. The best investment you can make in your new hip or knee replacement is in your own health. Pursuing the commonsense tenants of a healthy lifestyle such as a healthy diet and regular physical exercise are your best investments. Doing your best to maintain a body weight that’s reasonable for your age and height is also key. It should not come as a surprise that what is good for your body in general is also good for your new joint replacement.

 

There are several factors that we know have an adverse effect on the longevity of a hip or knee replacement.

Obesity has a negative effect on joint replacement in many ways – not just on how long the implant will last. It increases the risk of other complications including infection, and can affect your experience with pain during and after your recovery.

If, like many people, you deal with the difficult duo of obesity and hip or knee arthritis, it’s in your best interest to address this problem as best you can before your surgery and to do what you can after surgery to control your weight.

High impact activities may also affect the longevity of your joint replacement implants. Please follow any permanent restrictions your surgeon provides regarding the avoidance of high impact activity, and other movements after joint replacement.

There are also factors outside of your control as a patient that significantly impact the longevity of your implant. Obviously, the skill and experience of your surgeon is paramount. The number of surgeries that your hospital or surgery center performs each year can influence both your surgical experience and the implant’s longevity as well.

A key is to become a critical thinker about these factors. If you think about it, you employ this decision-making in your life every day. Probably without thinking about it, you apply critical thinking when choosing a car mechanic, roofer, contractor to remodel your house, realtor, and so forth. Use the same critical thinking and evaluation for your surgical factors decision-making as well.

Wondering about implant longevity is the concern I most commonly see springing from the question, “am I too young”.  To conclude this article, I would like to circle back to that office visit where you get the unwelcome news that your joint is worn out and that replacement is your next option.

For many of you, the pain from arthritis is hard to describe and its impact on your life even harder to explain. This pain can become like a toxic ooze that seeps into and harms many aspects of your life. It becomes the first thing you think about when you wake up and the last thing you think about when you go to bed. This pain can directly and negatively impact your emotional health and feelings about life in general.

This is why emotions like depression, loss of hope, and anxiety are common companions to advanced hip and knee arthritis. This toxic ooze can also negatively impact your deepest personal relationships in your family, friend, and work interactions.

If you find yourself wrestling with these toxic side effects of living in pain, hip and knee replacements are being performed more than ever and could be available to you. Talk to a ROC orthopedic surgeon to see if joint replacement is appropriate for your specific condition.

 

So… are you too young?

Many of you in your 40s or 50s, the typical age of the “too young” patient, are asking yourself that question. Our honest answer is that, it would be ideal if everyone with the diagnosis of severe arthritis would be healthy and in their 80s. The issues of age and longevity in that case would be moot. However, many of you are not in your 80s. You’re all in different stages of life and your ages range from your 20s to your 90s. If you’re miserable and stuck in the toxic grip of chronic pain, does it make sense to continue to suffer? Only you and your surgeon can decide when the appropriate time is right for you, based or your specific condition.

Having surgery one or two years from now may have a negligible effect on how long you will have your new joint. Delaying into that year or two will, however, continue to hurt your life at an accelerated pace.  That risk, the risk of continuing to suffer and damage your life is, for many, higher than any risk a replacement surgery presents.

So maybe we should rephrase the question from “am I too young to have my hip or knee replaced” to “am I too young to be suffering and disabled, missing out from many of the joys of life”? Our best to all of you as you navigate your diagnosis of hip and knee arthritis.

 

To learn more about arthritis, schedule a consultation with one of our ROC Specialists.