Mark Mullins, a consultant orthopaedic and trauma surgeon, based at Swansea’s HMT Sancta Maria Hospital, explains why the myths around hip and knee replacement surgery should be kicked into touch.
If you are struggling to complete your golf game, to get out of the car elegantly, or to put your socks on, particularly on cold mornings, you might want to consider getting a specialist to examine your hips.
A growing number of people, of all ages, are turning to an orthopaedic surgeon to replace hip or knee joints, those pivotal body parts that keep us active and on the go. As the recent reports into tennis ace Andy Murray’s health woes show, hip pain can be highly debilitating.
It is an area of surgery that can reinstate someone’s active lifestyle, help keep them fit and active for longer into middle age and beyond, and one which enjoys a very high success rate, thanks to the pioneering medical advances that have been made in the field in recent years.
However, it is also an area of surgery which is dogged by misconceptions and myths that are putting some people off getting the care they need. And, says Mr Mullins, this delay can be catastrophic for some, and it is preventing many more from living the active and pain-free life they crave.
He explains: “There are lots of outmoded beliefs surrounding hip and knee surgery, even within the medical profession. Many people think a hip replacement will only last ten years, so they delay going to a doctor or a specialist about the pain they are suffering, because they wouldn’t want to have two such surgeries in their lifetime. This is a very risky course of action because there is very much a definite window of opportunity when it comes to the optimum time for a surgeon to operate on a hip. If a patient consults in a wheelchair after years of pain, it may simply be too late to help.
“People also worry about losing mobility post-operation, or about being forced to curtail their lifestyle after a hip or knee replacement. In fact, the opposite is the case. They are very likely to be more mobile after joint replacement and to be able to do the things they have had to cut back on, whether this is golfing, walking, cycling, swimming, or playing with the grandchildren. In fact, many of the patients I see come to me because they are a carer or babysitter for their grandchildren and they want to enjoy this more. They want to be able to get down on the floor with them and to be as active as they can be with them. And after joint replacement surgery – which has a 95 percent success rate – they can. These procedures change lives and give people back the lifestyle they enjoy.”
In his twelve years as a consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon, Mark has been involved in a number of pioneering projects which have advanced his area of surgery, including the use of customised knee replacements.
More recently, Mark is a member of a small group of UK surgeons using the Optimised Positioning System for hip replacement.
This technique uses dynamic X-ray images in combination with laser equipment to place the hip components in the position with the lowest possible risk of dislocation and the most functional benefit to the patient, which also reduces complication rates.
Mark is a pioneer of this development in hip surgery, which uses advanced computer modelling to simulate how a patient’s hip joint moves through a range of daily activities, so the replacement hip can be tailored to the individual patient and to their physiology and lifestyle.
“This is a state-of-the-art system that allows a surgeon to see and to model how a patient moves off the operating table, in order to get the best possible result and, equally importantly, to get a result which can last decades.
“But, of course, this is not only an operation for older people. I perform a number of hip and knee operations every month for younger patients, not least because we’re a sporting nation and many sports can take a toll on the joints.
“And whatever age we are, our expectations regarding the kind of life we expect to lead have changed, and continue to evolve. Many of us are now attuned to the fact that an active life is a healthy life, so we are moving more, and doing so more frequently. The most recent National Survey for Wales found that 32 percent of adults participate in a sporting activity three times a week or more. This is something we should all be prioritising. And once activity is an embedded part of your life, with all the many benefits it brings, you don’t want to surrender it to worn out joints. Well, in most cases, as long as you see a specialist soon enough, you don’t need to.”
For more information about HMT Sancta Maria’s orthopaedic procedures, go to https://www.hmtsanctamaria.org/treatments/orthopaedics/