Orthopedic surgeries are among the most common surgical procedures across all age groups, yet are especially prevalent among older adults. From young people who tear ligaments in sports to older adults with persistent knee pain who require a joint replacement, orthopedic surgeries improve the lives of all types of people.
Seniors, however, have particular health concerns that disproportionately affect them or that do not impact younger populations at all.
For example, older adults have had a greater amount of wear and tear on their bones after a lifetime of living and require joint replacements at a higher rate than younger people. They may also have brittle bones that are more susceptible to fracture.
The phrase “œorthopedic” refers to the musculoskeletal system of the human body, meaning the bones, joints, muscle, tendons and ligaments that hold our bodies up and keep us moving.
Let’s look at the five most popular orthopedic surgical procedures for seniors performed in the United States and a brief description of what each one entails.
Hip Replacement Surgery
A hip replacement is among the most common surgeries in older adults. Most of us have had a grandparent, parent, aunt, uncle, friend or other loved one undergo this type of surgery at some point. In fact, it is the single most common orthopedic surgical procedure done in the United States.
A hip replacement is also known as hip arthroplasty, and there are two main types: a partial hip arthroplasty and a total hip arthroplasty. In a total hip arthroplasty, both the hip socket and the head of the bone that inserts into the socket â€” called the acetabulum â€” are replaced. In a partial hip arthroplasty, only the acetabulum is replaced, leaving the original hip socket intact.
The joint that is replaced in a hip replacement has a ball-and-socket style of construction, and the replacements are generally made from medical-grade plastic and metal.
A hip replacement may be indicated for moderate to severe arthritis pain or in the case of some types of hip fractures.
When you initially start walking following your hip replacement surgery, your doctor may request you use a walking cane or walker for support.
Knee Replacement Surgery
Knee replacement surgery, also known as knee arthroplasty, is another one of the most common surgical procedures in older adults.
There are many reasons for needing your knees replaced. In older adults, the leading indications for knee replacement are arthritis and osteoarthritis. The pain associated with these conditions is an important reason why many people get hip replacements. However, many people have joint pain for other reasons, such as injuries from sports like skiing and running.
In a knee replacement surgery, the surfaces of the knee that touch each other and cause pain with movement are replaced. These include the end of the thigh bone, known as the femur, and the top of the bone of the lower leg called the tibia.
Much like in a hip replacement, the prosthesis that is used in this surgery is made of metal and plastic and covers the surface of the bones that were previously causing pain.
Recovery from surgery can take weeks or months, so it is a good idea to make sure you have everything you might need at home in the initial weeks all set up and ready to go before leaving for the hospital.
Hip Fracture Repair Surgery
Unfortunately, hip fractures associated with falls are a reality for some of our older adult population. Whether from falling in the shower, slipping on ice or something else, fall-related injuries such as fractures often require special surgeries to fix.
In a hip fracture repair, the surgeon will try to realign and stabilize the bone that has been broken. Often this requires the use of metal or plastic rods, screws, wires or other stabilizing devices that typically stay inside the body once the surgery is complete and can be viewed on an X-ray image.
The list of orthopedic surgeries that older adults get is too long to include exhaustively here; however, these are the most common in the older population of the U.S.
Note that following any orthopedic surgery, your physician or surgeon may suggest the use of a special positioning cushion or pillow to facilitate correct positioning and speed healing. It is important to follow the recommendations of your physician following any surgical procedure to reduce the risk of complications and make sure you heal well.
Whether you require a hip replaced, a knee replaced or something else, working with your surgeon, physician, physical therapist and the rest of your care team can help make sure your recovery from surgery goes as quickly as possible.