Serious joint discomfort can have a significant impact on the quality of your life. It may be keeping you from the activities you love, such as dancing, playing sports, or hiking. Or worse, it may be negatively affecting your ability to perform necessary day-to-day activities like household chores and commuting to work. Joint pain is a serious issue that isn’t limited to the elderly, and its causes, such as osteoarthritis, are affecting more and more people, and at an earlier and earlier age.

Treatment options range from simple pain relievers to full joint replacement surgery. If you are experiencing severe joint discomfort, surgical treatment may help you reduce your pain and regain natural motion. More than 780,000 total joint replacement surgeries are performed annually in the United States. Joint replacement surgeries have an extremely high success rate in significantly relieving pain and allowing individuals to live more active and fulfilling lives.

Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and trauma-related arthritis are the most common causes of chronic joint pain in the hip and knees.

Of the three, osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder. This type of arthritis causes the cartilage that acts as cushioning between bone joints to wear away. In later stages of the disease, the cartilage wears away entirely, causing bone to rub against bone. The disease is common in people over 60, but may also occur to younger individuals. Another possible cause of severe joint pain is rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis affects the young and old alike. The third most common cause of joint discomfort is trauma-related arthritis, which can result from damage to the joint from a previous injury. Improper healing may lead to excessive wear on the joint surface, a lessened blood supply to the joint (called avascular necrosis), and arthritis.

All three of these forms of arthritis can restrict physical activity and severely limit mobility to a point where day-to-day life is negatively affected. Severe joint pain may also cause you to be unable to sleep, or to wake up repeatedly throughout the night.

Before committing to surgery, it may be best to pursue more conservative treatment options. Mild joint pain can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Some individuals suffering from joint pain may be treated with corticosteroids, which are injected into the joints to reduce inflammation. All sufferers of joint pain should participate in exercises that increase balance, flexibility, and range of movement. These include walking, swimming, yoga, stretching, and isometric exercises. Massages and heat treatment may also relieve joint pain.

In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, disease modifying antirheumatic drugs such as methotrexate or white blood cell modulators such as abatacept or rituxen may be prescribed in addition to the drug and exercise regimen described above.

If, however, these treatments have been unsuccessful in reducing pain in your hips and knees, it may be time to consider full joint replacement surgery. Full joint replacement surgery is what it sounds like it: the replacement of a diseased joint, in this case the knee or the hip, with prostheses made of either metal, plastic, or ceramic. The prosthetic components will improve joint stability, overall mobility, and rid that area of the body of pain.

The first knee replacement was performed in 1968, and the first hip replacement in 1969. In the years since, many improvements have been made in both surgical materials and techniques. Artificial joints are now more durable and can be made to duplicate the original joint with a high degree of accuracy. New surgical techniques require less invasive incisions and allow for quicker recovery times.

Anyone who suffers from extreme hip or knee pain that keeps them from going about their day-to-day lives should consider joint replacement surgery. It’s a myth that hip and knee replacements are only for the elderly. Joint replacement surgery is recommended on the basis of a patient’s pain and disability, not age. Joint replacements have been performed successfully on patients of all ages, from younger patients with juvenile arthritis to elderly patients with degenerative arthritis.

In addition, advanced technologies are now allowing arthritis patients to consider surgery at an earlier stage. For example, new models of prosthetic joints can last up to twenty years without being replaced. Early diagnoses and treatment of arthritis are important to your long-term physical health. Arthritis is a degenerative disease that gets worse over time if left untreated and it is essential to address joint pain as early as possible. If you believe that surgery may help, discuss the option with an orthopedic surgeon and act sooner rather than later.

Joint replacement surgery has an incredibly high rate of success. Nevertheless, you should be realistic in your expectations. Full recovery will take anywhere from three to six months, at which point you’ll be able to walk without assistance, return to normal day-to-day activities, and enjoy low-impact recreational activities. However, joint replacement surgery will not allow you to do more than you could before you developed arthritis. For the rest of your life, you’ll have to avoid some activities, like high impact sports. Nevertheless you will almost certainly return to low-impact recreational activity and will be able to live an active life with significantly less pain than before.