Navigate Up

Full Library - A-Z Index

Print This Page

Deciding to have knee or hip replacement


When you are thinking of having knee or hip replacement surgery, you may want to read more and talk to others with knee or hip problems. But a key step is sitting down with your doctor to discuss your quality of life and what your goals are.

Surgery may or may not be the right choice for you. Only careful discussion and thought can help you make a decision.

Who Benefits from Knee Replacement Surgery?

The most common reason to have a knee joint replaced is to provide relief for severe arthritis pain that limits what a person is able to do. Your doctor may recommend knee replacement when:

  • You are having symptoms of knee arthritis, such as:
    • You can't sleep through the night because of knee pain.
    • Your knee pain limits or keeps you from being able to do your normal activities, such as bathing, preparing meals, household chores, and other things.
  • Your knee pain has not improved with other treatment.
  • You understand that surgery and recovery afterwards will be like.

Some people are more willing to accept the limits their knee pain has placed on them. This means waiting until the pain is waking them up at night or preventing them from doing everyday activities.

Others may be interested in knee replacement surgery if their pain is preventing them from taking longer walks, playing tennis or golf, or being able to do other important, casual activities.

Knee or hip replacements are usually done in people age 60 and older, but many people who have this surgery are younger. When a knee or hip replacement is done, the new joint may wear out over time. This is more likely to occur in people with a more active lifestyle or in those who will likely live longer. Unfortunately, if a second joint replacement is needed in the future, it may not work as well as the first one.

Is There Any Harm in Waiting?

For the most part, knee and hip replacement are elective procedures. This means the surgery is done to provide relief for your pain, not for any other medical reason.

The good news is that delaying surgery should not make joint replacement surgery less effective if you ever choose to have it. You are in control of this decision and will have the last word.

That being said, if the pain is so severe that you’re hardly getting up and moving around, the muscles around your knee or hip may become weaker, and the bones may become thinner. When this happens, recovering from surgery may be more difficult and take longer.

Reasons You May Not Be Able to Have Replacement

Some medical problems may lead your doctor to recommend that you NOT have knee replacement surgery:

  • Morbid obesity (weighing over 300 pounds)
  • The muscles in the front of your thigh, or your quadriceps, are very weak. Weak quadriceps could make it very hard for you to walk and use your knee.
  • Unhealthy skin around your knee
  • Previous infection of your knee
  • Heart or lung problems make major surgery more risky.

Updated: 6/22/2012

A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, and Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine (8/12/2011).

©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA