Athletic Activities After Joint Replacement

Should Patients Pick Up Where They Left Off?

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While pain relief has historically been the main reason people have joint replacement surgery -- the need to improve joint function has also become motivating for patients -- especially those involved in athletic activities. Patients and orthopedic surgeons don't necessarily worry about the same things after joint replacement surgery.

While patients focus on pain relief and regaining function, surgeons are focused on pain relief, function, and how long the replacement will last before a revision (repeat surgery) is needed. For that reason, surgeons typically recommend low-impact sports to their patients and steer them away from high-impact sports -- in an effort to prolong the life of the prosthesis.

Athletic Activities - Safe After Joint Replacement Surgery?

If you have had joint replacement surgery and the pain is gone, you probably think you are good to go -- in terms of participating in athletic activities. Most doctors will still have reservations, though, and want you to think about the following before participating in strenuous athletic activities:

  • Increased stress on your newly implanted joint can cause it to wear out more quickly. Running, tennis, or basketball are examples of athletic activities that increase stress on a new hip or knee replacement.
  • Athletic activities can cause increased wear to the materials that make up the joint prosthesis (metal, plastic, or ceramic). Debris can get loose in the joint -- causing pain, fluid build-up, and even loosening of the prosthesis.
  • A loose prosthesis creates the need for a revision surgery.

The Effect of Implant Wear on Athletic Activities

Here's a question for you. Do you think implant wear is associated with how much the joint is used -- or how old the prosthesis is -- in other words, how long it has been in place? If you said how much the implant is used -- you're right.

How much activity should be recommended following hip and knee replacement surgery is not crystal clear -- it's more murky than clear. There has not been extensive research done in this area.

Many patients are perfectly happy being allowed to participate in their favorite sport, feeling that they can deal with a revision if and when it becomes necessary. They are unwilling to avoid athletic activities "just in case" it hastens the need for revision.

What You Should Do Before Participating in Sports

Experts agree that if you have had a hip or knee replacement and you wish to participate in athletic activities, you should:

  • train for the sport
  • build your back strength
  • build your hip strength
  • build your knee strength
  • realize that there are potential risks associated with athletic activities after joint replacement
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Article Sources
  • Getting Back in the Game After a Hip or Knee Replacement. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS). 10/01/2008.
  • Athletic Activity Following Joint Replacement. The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. Healy WL, et al.