While many patients who undergo a hip or knee replacement may wish to return to athletic activity after surgery, they should know that they may be taking a risk with their new joint. A review of the latest data on athletic activity after joint replacement, published in the October 2008 issue of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery found that despite their wishes, patients generally reduce athletic activity after joint replacement.

Joint replacement is considered by many to be one of the most successful medical innovations of the twentieth century. Hip and knee replacement operations, which are increasing in frequency, predictably relieve pain and improve function for patients with arthritic joints.

Pain relief, has been and continues to be, the primary reason patients consider joint replacement. However, as the Boomer generation ages, improved joint function is becoming a more frequent motivator for patients undergoing joint reconstruction.

“Baby Boomers have a lower tolerance for discomfort and disability if they are involved in athletics,” says William L. Healy, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass. “After joint replacement they often want to be able to keep up the same level of sporting activity that they enjoyed in the past.”

However, there are still questions within the orthopaedic community concerning the degree to which athletic activity is safe after a hip or knee replacement. It has been determined that patients who participate in strenuous athletic activity after a joint replacement have:
• Increased stress placed on the reconstructed joint causing the new joint to wear out more quickly. This might be caused by activities such as running, tennis, or basketball.
• Increased wear to the artificial materials such as metal, plastic, or ceramic, which comprise the new joint. Athletic activity can cause small particles known as wear debris to get loose within the joint. The particles can cause fluid buildup and pain.
• Increased stress where the implant is attached, which results in inflammation and fluid buildup. It can cause the artificial components to become loose, and a revision operation may be necessary.

Furthermore, implant wear has been shown to be related to how much the joint is used as opposed to the length of time the artificial joint has been in place. It is still not clear how much athletic activity should be reasonably allowed or recommended following total joint arthroplasty in order to promote durability and survival of the joint reconstruction.

The orthopaedic literature regarding sports and total joint replacement (also known as arthroplasty) is not extensive, and high-quality, objective, evidence-based information is lacking. Recommendations in the form of expert opinion are available from the Hip Society, Knee Society, and the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons, but those recommendations are not a substitute for better clinical research.

“We need to keep in mind that surgeons and patients often assess the success of joint replacement differently,” Healy says. “Surgeons look at pain, function, and survivorship and whether the patient needed revision, while patients consider their pain and activity. If the joint allows them to play their favorite sport without pain, they may not be concerned about needing an additional surgery in the future.”

Patients who choose to play sports after joint replacement should train for their sport, build up back, hip, and knee strength, and be aware of the potential risks of athletic activity after joint replacement.

Disclosure: The authors did not receive any outside funding or grants in support of their research for or preparation of this work. One or more of the authors or a member of his or her immediate family received, in any one year, payments or other benefits in excess of $10,000 or a commitment or agreement to provide such benefits from a commercial entity (DePuy Orthopaedics). Also, a commercial entity (DePuy Orthopaedics) paid or directed in any one year, or agreed to pay or direct, benefits in excess of $10,000 to a research fund, foundation, division, center, clinical practice, or other charitable or nonprofit organization with which one or more of the authors, or a member of his or her immediate family, is affiliated or associated.

[Source: Newswise]