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Joint replacement surgery has come a long way

Syracuse Orthopedic Specialists (SOS)

This week on “Take Care,” an interview with Dr. Seth Greenky on joint pain and joint replacement surgery. Dr. Greenky is the department chairman for orthopedic surgery at St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center in Syracuse and associate professor at SUNY Upstate medical College.

(click on "Read more" for the podcast of this interview and more information)

Dr. Greenky says there’s good news and bad news when it comes to aging and joint pain. Everybody will eventually have joint pain if they live long enough, he says. But, “it’s incredibly impressive how many things have changed,” says Greenky on the state of treatment of joint pain. “In a million ways, it’s getting better.”

Many factors are involved in determining when joint pain will start taking its toll on a person. These factors range from a person’s job -- a farmer will experience joint pain differently than an office worker -- genetics and how physically active a person is.

When it comes to physical activity, many people believe that as joint pain begins or progresses, they should back off physical activity. Greenky explains that this is not an accurate belief. “The fitter you are, the stronger your muscles are around each joint that’s involved, the less symptomatic it is.”

In order to keep muscles strong, Greenky says that non-impact loading exercises are ideal. Examples include biking, swimming and using an elliptical machine.

When it comes to actually getting joint pain checked out by a professional, Greenky has found that people are often confused as to when to make that step. “Pain is so subjective. There is pain that people tolerate, and there is pain that people don’t. Everybody’s tolerance is different.”

Greenky says that when the pain starts interfering with an activity somebody really loves doing, like golf, or an activity one has to do, like walk, then it is definitely time to get that pain checked out. As he puts it, “It’s a quality of life issue even more than a pain issue most of the time.”

Ignoring the pain is the worst thing a person could do, though. “You could be doing damage over time that is potentially irreversible,” says Greenky.

While Dr. Greenky pushes his patients to try more conservative treatments before getting to the point where a joint replacement surgery is needed, he says it’s nothing to fear due to the advancements in the field.

Different methods of surgery and different materials being used for the replacements are allowing for surgeries to occur on younger patients. “They [the replacement joints] are going to last longer, they endure more trauma.”

These advancements have allowed for a much quicker recovery time as well, with a current average length of hospitalization of two days for hip and knee replacements.

Operation Walk-Syracuse

Dr. Greenky is also a co-founder of Operation Walk-Syracuse, a non-profit organization that provides pro bono hip and knee replacements internationally and locally. Internationally, Greenky has performed surgeries in countries such as Nepal and Panama.

When it comes to helping out people locally, the organization seeks to serve people that make enough money that they do not qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford their own medical insurance. “They’re the people you want to help the most-- self-employed, working people who are just getting by,” says Greenky.

He sees his involvement with Operation Walk as an incredibly fulfilling experience, knowing that he is helping out many. “Who wouldn’t want to operate on a person who is working and is productive but just cannot afford it?