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When the doctor says you need a knee replacement, it’s time to start taking the surgery seriously. Putting it off can end up making things worse. It can restrict your activity and can cause additional health problems.
You may be able to endure the pain, but you might gain weight and wind up putting unnecessary stress on other parts of your body. You can also develop bad walking habits that might affect other parts of your body. Constant pain can cause depression and you may become hard to get along with.
If you are not convinced you need surgery after seeing an orthopedic surgeon, get a second opinion. Ask family members to give you an honest appraisal of the way you walk and ask them if you complain a lot or if they notice that you are in constant pain.
In this article I will point out 8 dangers in delaying total knee replacement surgery.
My TKR: Was My Timing Right For Surgery?
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, my knee problems were a result of an athletic injury I suffered when I was 21 years old. I continued to stay active after spending 8 months in a cast with a spiral fracture of my tibia.
Along the way, I had surgery on my right meniscus twice, two years apart. The meniscus surgeries slowed me down but I continued to play basketball and softball twice a week, jog, hike and ride a bicycle.
The quality of my play decreased over the years and the pain in my knee increased. Eventually, the cartilage in my knee was gone and I had severe bone on bone pain.
I tried braces, cortisone shots, hyaluronic acid shots and over the counter pain medications. They helped somewhat but finally, I had to quit playing basketball and softball (read about my experience with cortisone shots and hyaluronic acid shots).
I started swimming and biking more and continued to hike. When I reached my 60’s my leg began to bow and I developed a noticeable limp. At age 66, I had X-rays and was told by a surgeon that I was several years overdue for TKR.
I made an appointment at a well-known sports clinic with another surgeon who confirmed the first doctor’s diagnosis. At age 66 I finally had knee replacement surgery (read about my 30-hours in the hospital).
I am convinced that my quality of life would have been better if I had opted to have the surgery at least 5 years earlier.
Dangers Of Delaying Knee Replacement Surgery
No. 1 Bad Joints Affect Your Muscles And Ligaments
As you begin to experience more and more pain in your knee you begin to limp and put more stress on the opposite leg. The muscles around your painful knee are not used as much and can atrophy.
Likewise, the tendons and ligaments that help stabilize your knee can become weak. Your good leg may increase in muscle mass but you may be putting more stress on that knee and hip that could cause future medical problems.
In my case, the pain in my right knee caused me to develop a severe limp and I began to experience pain after long walks in my left hip.
No. 2 A Bad Knee Can Change Your Posture (Skeletal System)
As I mentioned above as my pain increased I developed a severe limp. This also affected my posture. I leaned to one side (bad knee side).
Sometimes after long walks, I had some pain in my lower back, nothing severe but certainly noticeable. Over a long period of time, it is possible to overcompensate and develop hip and back issues related to the limping and the bad posture.
Because I was walking incorrectly I also had frequent ankle pain and my left shoe was worn down much different from the right shoe.
No. 3 Puts More Pressure On Your Hip
My left hip (good knee side) frequently caused me pain the last two years before TKR, especially after 5-10 mile hikes that I took with my hiking group once or twice a week.
I was used to the knee pain but the pain on the opposite hip made it harder to favor one leg when walking. Having a painful knee while hiking and a sore hip after the hike got to be too much.
No. 4 Overcompensate With Your Good Knee And Risk Injuring Other Body Parts
I knew that I was favoring my right knee and putting more pressure on my left knee and hip. Thankfully when the surgeon took X-rays, the left knee looked great and I hope it will never need TKR.
After surgery, my therapist gave me exercises to do to strengthen my hips. After a few months, I could take long walks and hikes without any pain in my opposite hip.
My ankle pain slowly decreased too as I learned how to walk correctly again without limping.
No. 5 The Pain Might Cause You To Become Inactive
When you are in constant pain when you walk or play, it is easy to give up and become a couch potato. You can gain weight. This will put more stress on your painful knee and the weight can cause other medical problems as well.
By not getting out and about you lose the opportunity to interact with buddies hiking, golfing, etc. and it may begin to limit invitations to socialize.
The muscles around your painful knee will atrophy and the supporting tendons and ligaments may weaken and your knee may become less stable. Your range of motion may decrease as well.
If this is the case, expect your rehab from TKR to be much more difficult. If you watch your weight and continue to exercise as much as possible before TKR, the easier your rehab will be.
No. 6 Internalize The Pain (Affects Quality of Life and Mood)
When you live with constant pain in your knee it may affect the quality of your life. You may not be able to enjoy your favorite activities anymore.
That’s why you need to find alternative activities that keep you in shape until you have had TKR and then hopefully you will be able to return to some of your favorite activities pain-free. If you are always hurting, your loved ones and friends may notice mood swings and depression.
You may not be the kind of person that others want to be around. You may not notice the change so it’s important to ask trusted family members if they see a difference in your day-to-day personality.
You also may have trouble sleeping with your knee pain and you may wake up grouchy and irritable in the mornings.
No. 7 Loss of Stability
As the pain increases in your knee and you begin to limp and favor that leg, you will lose strength and stability in the knee. It will be much harder to balance on one knee for such simple tasks as putting on and taking off pants and washing your feet in the shower.
If you continue to stay active, you may take a fall hiking downhill or walking down steps and incur a serious injury.
After my TKR surgery and rehab my knee is more stable than it has been in years.
No. 8 The Older You Are The Longer The Recovery
The longer you wait to have TKR once it is necessary, the older you get. As you age it can make the rehab from TKR much more difficult.
As you age other medical conditions may develop that may make the TKR process more difficult, especially if you are already taking a lot of medicine for other conditions. At an advanced age you may not be able to return to some of the activities that you enjoyed 10 years before when you were told that you needed TKR.
Knee replacement can improve the quality of your life at any age but don’t expect that the procedure will make you young again. The wear and tear on other parts of your body while you have been putting off TKR may present problems after TKR.
Once you and your doctor are convinced that TKR is necessary you need to consider several things before you put the surgery off. Your age is certainly a major factor but there are many other considerations.
- Are you able to live with the pain?
- Are you still able to enjoy the activities you love and is your quality of life acceptable?
You don’t want to develop bad habits that may affect your posture, the way you walk, weight gain, other medical issues, the inability to enjoy favorite activities and the negative impact it may have on your social life and personality. The younger you are and if you are in good physical shape your rehab will be much easier.
I hope you take into consideration the 8 things I discussed in this article before you make a decision to put TKR surgery off once it is evident that TKR is necessary.
As always, thanks for reading.