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8 questions to ask yourself before choosing joint replacement

| Healthy You | Aging Well | Chronic Conditions

Closeup of doctor's hands holding X-ray and woman pointing to knee

Lots of people have new joints. Here’s what to know if you're considering one yourself.

In recent years, total joint replacement has grown more and more common. And people are seeing better results, shorter recovery times and increased quality of life. 

"Many people know that hip and knee replacement surgeries have been performed for decades and are highly effective for the treatment of arthritis,” says David Rust, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at PeaceHealth in Bellingham, Washington.

“They may not be aware, however, that there are joint replacement surgeries for many other orthopedic problems as well.”

As a shoulder surgeon, Dr. Rust offers traditional and reverse total shoulder replacement surgery for a wide range of conditions such as arthritis, chronic rotator cuff injuries, fractures and tumors.

Other less common joint replacements include ankle, elbow, wrist and even disc replacement surgeries for arthritis of the spine.

“Modern technology has significantly reduced the complications from these surgeries. In many cases, the recovery is far quicker than most patients expect," he notes.

Knowing that joint replacement has improved other people’s lives, you may wonder if it’s right for you too — whether you have pain in the knee, hip, shoulder or other area.

Here are eight questions that might help you decide:

1. Does your long-term joint pain limit your daily activities? 

If you’ve had joint pain for months or years that keeps you from being active, it may be time to look at surgery. 

2. Do you have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis?

These common joint conditions can cause pain and stiffness that make moving difficult. 

Your provider can use a variety of tests and exams to find out if you have osteoarthritis. Additionally, there are ways to see if you have rheumatoid arthritis.

If you've been diagnosed with one of these conditions, total joint replacement may be an option.

3. Have you experienced an injury or infection that damaged a joint?

Damage to the joint may mean there are fewer options to make it better. If so, total joint replacement may be an effective treatment.

4. Has your medical provider ordered X-rays? 

X-rays are the most common way to diagnose arthritis and are used to see what type and how serious the condition is.

Images can clearly show what’s going on in your joint. It helps you and your provider make choices about next steps.

5. Do you have any joints that are a different size or shape than they would be normally? 

Having unequal or misshapen joints can cause discomfort or pain. It can also limit your ability to get around. Here again is where total joint replacement might help.

6. Are you an older adult?

Is there a magic age for joint replacement? No. Everyone’s joints wear down at different rates for different reasons. The decision to have joint replacement isn’t based only on your age, but it is one important factor.

Some people may be as young as 50 when they look at getting a new joint. Others may be in their 60s or 70s before they’re ready. And still others might never need surgery.

One thing to keep in mind is how long the new joint might last. Most are good for 10 to 20 years. Depending on your age and how well your new joint holds up, you might need a second surgery down the road.

7. Have you tried other treatments without success? 

If you’ve tried physical therapy, medications, injections or other treatments and haven’t had the results you want, it could be time to talk about total joint replacement.

8. Are you carrying extra weight? 

Depending on how much you weigh, your provider might recommend losing a few pounds before surgery. This could ease pressure on your joints — especially knees, hips and ankles that bear much of your body weight.

Having your weight within a healthy range can help make the surgery more successful. It can also help you recover faster. 

These are just a few key questions that can help you understand whether joint replacement could be an appropriate treatment for you.

Of course, the final decision on total joint replacement should only be made after you visit an orthopedic surgeon. 

They will get to know your goals, discuss your overall health, and consider the current condition of your joints before making a recommendation.

portrait of David A. Rust MD

David A. Rust MD

Sports Medicine
David A. Rust, MD, joined the PeaceHealth Medical Group Orthopedics & Sports Medicine team of providers in April 2021. Dr. Rust is an orthopedic surgeon with fellowship training in sports medicine and arthroscopic surgery. He specializes in arthroscopic surgery of the shoulder, hip, knee and elbow; complex shoulder surgery and reconstruction, including reverse shoulder replacement; sports and trauma surgery; and ACL surgery. He has clinical research experience in skiing/snowboarding, mountain biking and shoulder injuries. Dr. Rust comes to PeaceHealth after practicing at St. Luke’s Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Duluth, Minnesota, where he was the chief of orthopedic surgery. During his time in Minnesota, he was the team physician for the Duluth Huskies (baseball), Duluth Football Club (soccer) and the Minnesota Wilderness (hockey). He was the medical director of the Spirit Mountain Ski and Bike Patrol. “Athletes have high goals and expectations, and my job is to provide the best possible treatment for every injury—whether that involves surgery, a referral to rehab or other alternatives. I am committed to helping my patients achieve their best,” he said. Dr. Rust is an avid mountain biker and is a three-time finisher in the Lutsen 99er mountain bike race. He also enjoys skiing, hiking and kayaking. “I have lived in some great outdoor places, including Idaho, Utah, New Mexico and Minnesota, and I believe Bellingham is one of the best places on Earth for enjoying the outdoors,” he says. His wife, Erin, is a pediatrician, and they share three children: Paul, Marie and Lucy.