Hip and Knee Arthritis: How to Stay Active and Avoid Surgery

Health Professional

Yes, you can remain active and avoid surgery if you have knee and hip arthritis. But there are certain adaptations that you need to do in order to achieve that goal. Those who do not adapt will encounter a life of pain and/or a big surgical scar. Both the knees and hips can be discussed together because they both respond to similar treatments and lifestyle changes necessary to remain active with less pain. Here are some suggested adaptations you should consider.

Take a Walk: Maybe you already enjoy walking but are finding it harder and harder to do. Walking can be made easier if you use some assistance from a walking stick or a trekking pole or two. Three or four "legs" is better than just two, and aids reduce the stress on your knees and hips. Walking can be much less painful if you follow a few simple pieces of advice like using an assistive device.

Dive In: If walking is not your thing, then try some swimming. Taking a few laps in the pool is a great way to get some exercise and it can be rather addictive. You don't need to be Michael Phelps to get a good work out in the pool. Even if you don't know how to swim, you can always take a walk in the shallow section of the pool. The weight-eliminating effect of water is very therapeutic for those with all types of pain.

Take a Break: In your younger years, your knees and hips could stay active all day, every day. Now they need some recovery time between activities. A little break allows for the swelling and inflammation to subside. A little break also allows for the ligaments to rebound and the cartilage to heal. Life is less painful at a slower pace.

Change Your Expectations: You may not be used to taking breaks or moving at a slower pace. Maybe that's why you are in pain. If you don't adapt to your new reality of living with arthritis in your knees and/or hips, then you likely find yourself strapped to an operating table. Imagine a big saw cutting away your bones that are to be replaced by a bunch of metal, and then you will likely change your expectations.

Try an Injection or Two: Joint injections can help you stay active and avoid surgery. Steroid injections at the right time and in the right place can help to keep you active and avoid a surgery. Knee arthritis also responds to synovial supplementation with a product like Synvisc. The effects don't last forever, but they can get you over a bad spell of being laid up and out of action. The key to success after an injection is not to do too much or something stupid afterwards; the same principles of treating the joint with kindness and pacing yourself still apply even though the joint temporarily feels 100 percent after a magical injection. Remember, injections do not cure arthritis.

Get a Physical Therapy Tune Up: Like your car, your body could probably benefit from a physical therapy tune up. A physical therapist can help to rebalance the knee or hip joint. By re-aligning a joint, the physical therapist can help the joint feel better. When joints get out of alignment, one part of the joint is often taking too much stress compared to another section of the joint. The knee and hip joints work best when the muscles that support the joint are well balanced.

Wear Good Shoes: Like your tire on your car, your shoes are the only contact point between you and the hard ground. Good shoes will provide good traction, good cushioning and good support for not only your entire legs but also your entire body from head to toe. And please avoid those tone-up or shape-up shoes because they will likely increase your pain and are in the hall of shame.

Eat Good Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants: Yes, food is medicine even for arthritis of the hips and knees. This is not just a matter of weight loss; this is a matter of helping your body control inflammation naturally. Check out the Anti-Inflammatory diet it works!

The pain from arthritis can result in inactivity and surgery. But that does not have to be your reality. If you take certain steps to adapt with your aging body parts, pain, inactivity and surgery can be avoided. The sooner you start to adapt the better chances of success you will have. If you wait until it's too late, until the bones are severely grinding together, then surgery may be the only way for you to remain active. However, you can take some steps in the non-surgical direction starting today.