Healthy Aging: Tips for Avoiding Joint Replacement

Published - Jul 12, 2019

By Amber Walker, MSc.PT, Cert SMT, Cert DN, Dip. Osteopractic, Clinic Director

Aging gracefully. It’s the Holy Grail for most of us and sometimes can feel impossible when our joints start to ache. Over half of the population over 65 has osteoarthritis, which is the breakdown of cartilage on the surface of the joint leading to pain, stiffness, and swelling. More than one million people undergo hip and knee replacement surgery annually. While joint replacement is sometimes the best option for decreasing pain and increasing mobility long-term,there are steps you can take to maintain the health of your joints.

Below are a few tips to help avoid joint replacement surgery. They will also help keep your energy levels at a maximum, well into retirement age. 

1.Maintain a healthy weight. 

 The more weight we carry, the greater the impact and load on our joints. Loosing just five percent of total body weight can relieve excess pressure on your joints. Today there are numerous step trackers and calorie counters to help us track our movement and activity levels each day. MyFitnessPal is a great website and smartphone app to help track calories, nutrition, and fitness goals.

2. Exercise regularly.

Adopt lower-impact activities like walking, swimming and biking, but whatever exercise you choose, the most important thing is to keep moving. Physical activity keeps the tissue within the joints flexible and lubricated, while also providing nutrients to the joints to help them heal.

3. Build muscle strength.

Any workout routine should include some component of strength training. Building muscle strength around joints helps prevent injury and reduce pain or discomfort.

4. Be cautious with cortisone injections. 

According to a randomized, controlled trial published in the May 16, 2017 issue of JAMA, an injection of a corticosteroid every three months over two years resulted in significantly greater cartilage volume loss and no significant difference in knee pain, compared to patients who received a placebo injection. While injections are effective in reducing pain and decreasing inflammation for some patients, they should be used cautiously, not too often, and at the lowest effective dose. Talk to your physician and your physical therapist about your long-term goals to determine if an injection is right for you.

5. Use trekking poles for support and stability. Taking pressure off your knees, hips, and ankles can help reduce the shock absorbed by your joints. This helps reduce pain while also improving your posture. Studies have shown that trekking poles can reduce compressive force on the knees by up to 25 percent when walking downhill. Additionally,trekking poles help propel you forward and upward, increasing the overall cadence in your step. You might just find that you’re walking faster and burning more calories when using trekking poles.

Look for a trekking pole with an ergonomic grip that feels comfortable, as many grips can lead to blisters on the hands. Make sure your walking sticks are positioned correctly, with a natural, 90 degree bend in your elbows when holding your poles on flat ground.

Amber Walker, MSc.PT, Cert SMT, Cert DN, Dip. Osteopractic, is a fellowship-trained physical therapist
and clinic director for IRG Physical and Hand Therapy - Anacortes. Amber loves working and living in
Anacortes with her husband, Ryan, and their two young children.