Chronic Joint Pain: Is It Time to Think about Surgery?

A national survey showed that nearly one-third of Americans reported experiencing joint pain within the last 30 days. Pain within the knees was the number one complaint, followed by pain in the shoulders and hips (Source: To Your Health).

Joint pain can range from mild to severe, and it can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months. If you are dealing with painful symptoms or loss of function in your joints, there are several conservative treatment options available. They include:

  • Medications- Prescription or over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen can offer pain relief and reduce joint swelling. In patients who are dealing with pain but do not have joint inflammation, acetaminophen may be sufficient.
  • Topical treatments- Topical creams and ointments can help to soothe joint comfort. Because the ingredients of these creams must be absorbed into the skin, they are most effective on joints that are close to the skin’s surface.
  • Steroid Injections- In patients who do not respond to medications and topical treatments, steroid injections may be the next step. These injections deliver medication directly to the joint site, and they can be repeated every three to four months.
  • Physical therapy- Exercises that stretch and strengthen surrounding muscles can help improve joint pain, stability and range of motion. In addition to specific stretches and exercises, a physical therapist may use ultrasound, electrical nerve stimulation, and heat or cold therapy to treat joint issues (Source: WebMD).

When conservative treatments offer little to no relief from chronic joint pain, it may be time to talk to your doctor about surgery. With advancements in medical technology and minimally invasive techniques, joint surgeries are now safer and more successful than ever before.

When weighing the pros and cons of surgery, you will want to consider the cost of the procedure and how greatly it will improve your quality of life. Hip and knee replacement surgeries, for example, have a 10-year success rate of 90 to 95 percent and a 20-year success rate of 80 to 85 percent. These procedures are often considered well worth the cost due to the quality years of life they offer to patients (Source: American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons).

Joint surgery is a very personal decision, but it’s one you should make with your doctor. Together you can discuss the risks and benefits of surgery and decide which course of treatment best meets your needs. You can also discuss the right timing for surgery and plans for recovery. Working hand in hand with your doctor will allow you find complete, long-term relief for your chronic joint pain issues.