How hip and knee replacements have improved over time

Orthopaedics and Fitness
doctor examining his patient who is concerned about his knee

From your shoulders to your elbows to your ankles, you have a lot of joints in your body. Joints, which are where two bones meet, allow you to move around. Two of the largest joints in your body — your hip and knee joints — play a crucial role in allowing you to walk, stand, and go about your day-to-day activities.

Your hip and knee joints bear a lot of your weight each day. Over time, the parts of these joints can break down and, eventually, lead to pain.

Hip and knee pain used to be a part of life, something that people would come to expect and have to endure with age. With hip and knee replacements, patients are experiencing relief from this pain every day.

In 2020, nearly 2 million hip and knee replacement surgeries were performed in the US— an almost 25% increase from the previous year.

According to Donna Levan, PT, DPT, MEd, CSCS, Orthopaedic Program Manager at Paoli Hospital, a part of Main Line Health. "In just the past decade, hip and knee replacement surgeries have come a long way. Not only do they reduce hip and knee pain and improve mobility, but they do so in a way that gets you back home faster and recovering more quickly."

Here's an overview of hip and knee replacement surgeries, including what advancements have been made to benefit patients.

What causes hip and knee pain?

Your hip and knee joints are unsung heroes of your body. Though you may not be aware, they allow you to do everything from walking to running to dancing around your living room. However, that also means they experience a lot of wear and tear over the years.

Your hip joint (where your thigh bone meets your pelvis) is one of your body's largest weight-bearing joints. Your knee joint (where your upper and lower leg meet) is the largest joint in your body.

Hip and knee pain can come from injuries or, more commonly, arthritis. Arthritis is a term to describe joint pain or joint disease — and there are more than 100 kinds of arthritis. However, 3 kinds of arthritis are responsible for the majority of hip and knee pain:

  1. Osteoarthritis: Often referred to as "wear and tear arthritis," osteoarthritis is when the cartilage, which cushions the bones of joints, becomes soft and wears away. This causes the bones to rub against one another, causing pain and stiffness.
  2. Rheumatoid arthritis: Part of a group of diseases called "inflammatory arthritis," rheumatoid arthritis is when the synovial membrane (connective tissue in joints) becomes thick and inflamed. Over time, this damages the cartilage in the joint and causes pain and stiffness.
  3. Posttraumatic arthritis: After a hip or knee injury, the cartilage may become damaged and lead to pain and stiffness.

What are hip and knee replacement surgeries?

Hip and knee replacement surgeries have been around since the 1960s, but they looked very different 60 years ago compared to today. Still, they've always had the same goal — to relieve hip and knee pain by removing damaged bone and tissue and replacing it with prosthetic (or human-made) parts.

"In a total hip replacement, damaged cartilage and bone is removed from your body. In a total knee replacement, damaged cartilage and just the surfaces of the bones are removed. In both procedures, these damaged parts of the joint are replaced with prosthetic parts. This creates a smooth, gliding surface to allow for more movement and less pain," explains Levan.

Recent advancements in hip and knee replacements

From improved processes to enhanced products, hip and knee replacements are more effective, efficient, and safe than they've ever been. Here are just a few recent advancements made in hip and knee replacement surgeries.

Improved implant materials

Better materials lead to better outcomes. When it comes to joint replacement, enhanced materials are longer lasting and more effective.

Many hip replacements now use ceramic with a strong plastic material called highly cross-linked polyethylene. This combination can last 10 or 15 years beyond what previous materials were able to provide — or up to 20 to 25 years.

As for knee replacements, advancements in materials have led to more joint mobility and less wear and tear. For instance, cobalt chrome is one of the most common materials used because of its durability, strength, and resistance to corrosion.

Reduced hospital recovery time

Decades ago, a hip or knee replacement used to mean a week in the hospital. In this last decade, most patients were able to head home after just one or two nights. In the last few years, programs have been developed to allow patients to go home the same day of surgery.

This is good news for a number of reasons. To begin with, you'll be more comfortable recovering at home. Being at home also helps speed up recovery, as you're able to adjust to your own environment and continue therapy at home.

All four Main Line Health Hospitals – Lankenau Medical Center, Bryn Mawr Hospital, Paoli Hospital, and Riddle Hospital – have instituted same day discharge programs over the past two years, which has helped contribute to the success of these procedures and less readmissions.

More pain control

Previously, joint replacements required general anesthesia (when you're completely asleep for the procedure). Now, other pain management methods, like epidural, spinal anesthesia, or injections into the tissues around the joint, are preferred.

This improved approach to pain control means you'll recover more quickly. In fact, you'll likely be able to have a strong physical therapy session on the same day of surgery to help you start healing right away.

Easing hip and knee pain with the advancements in joint replacement

Hip and knee pain used to be an unwelcome rite of passage to getting older. With joint replacements, not only can you experience relief from this pain, but you can also recover more quickly with the constant advancements occurring every year.

At Main Line Health, we take pride in relieving the pain and discomfort of our patients through hip and knee replacement surgery. From preparing you for surgery to supporting your ongoing recovery, we're committed to providing the best care to get you moving without pain. In fact, more than 95% of our patients experience good to excellent results when it comes to pain relief, increased activity levels, and improved mobility.

Thanks to ongoing advancements in science — and your dedicated care team at Main Line Health — you can say goodbye to hip and knee pain and hello to a pain-free future.

Do you have questions about hip or knee replacements? Main Line Health's Joint Replacement Program is here to support you on your joint replacement journey. Call 484.395.8648 to talk to a hip and knee program manager today.

You can also join one of our hip and knee webinars or in person events to learn more about the causes of and ways to relieve joint pain.

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