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When joint replacements go wrong: preparing for the worst (and rare)

For the most part, joint replacement surgeries are routine procedures that lead to life-changing results. In fact, total knee and total hip replacements are successful in more than 90 percent of well-selected patients, with both types lasting on average of upward of 15 years.

Still, hip and knee replacements should not be approached casually. They are a real surgery, and they require an experienced doctor, as well as a patient who is in good medical condition and willing to commit to the rehabilitation process.

I personally pride myself in providing top-of-the-line surgical care to those who enter my New York office, and I would never recommend a joint replacement surgery to someone who I did not feel could handle it. While no procedure is foolproof, negative results or side effects are pretty uncommon. And in the rare situation where they do occur, treatments are certainly possible. Although I don’t predict that anything will go wrong during a joint replacement, here are a few possible problems to be mindful of before you undergo the surgery.

Failure

Receiving a joint replacement means that you are placing an outside object inside of your body. Today, replacement joints are made of durable, smooth materials that have little resistance and mimic a natural joint. They are as close to the real thing as possible. Still, sometimes bodies do not respond well to these foreign body components. If you have negative symptoms like warmth, swelling, intense pain, or instability that linger longer than seems normal, don’t hesitate to speak up and question whether your body is rejecting a replacement.

Infection

It is incredibly important that surgical areas are kept clean during and following a joint replacement procedure. In rare cases, a patient may develop an infection following an operation. Normally, our bodies can fight off infection-causing bacteria, but our immune systems have a harder time attacking bacteria that lives around synthetic materials, like metal and plastic joints. Joint infections aren’t always immediate. In fact, sometimes they can develop years after surgery occurs. X-rays, scans, and blood tests can help determine if you are experiencing an infection, and the earlier it is detected the better. Some superficial infections can be treated with IVs or medicine. More advanced infections may require a surgical intervention.

Rigorous therapy

One of the great benefits of modern hip and knee replacements is that they require less recovery time. In fact, depending on your type of surgery, you might find yourself out of bed and moving around within a day of your procedure. Some people even head home without staying the night in the hospital. This fast turnaround also means that you will be pushed to use your new joint sooner than you might expect. If you’re working with a physical therapist, she or he might recommend some intense stretches and movements to help your body get used to its new addition. If you find yourself struggling with any of the activities, don’t hesitate to ask for a change of pace or a movement modification. The last thing you want to do is harm another body part while you are getting used to a new joint.

By and large, joint replacements are safe and easy. While problems with replacements are possible, know that I will be working hard to make sure yours is done correctly.

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