Hip Replacement Surgery Alternatives
Ross Hauser, MD In this article Ross Hauser MD discusses hip replacement surgery alternatives as well as seeing the patient following hip replacement who had surgical complications. Dr. Hauser will also discuss options that include Prolotherapy, Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy, and Stem Cell Therapy. It’s all about the joint space. It is not only non-surgical doctors who are critical of unnecessary surgical procedures, but the surgeons themselves who question the validity of certain procedures after they see the outcome in their own patients.
Concern with complication from hip replacement is one of the most frequent comments we receive in our office. Following that is what are the alternatives to the surgery?
A 2006 article in Pain Physician Journal featured a case study of successful cartilage regeneration using stem cell therapy.1 This case involved a 64-year-old man with a 20-year history of hip pain. He was a candidate for hip replacement as his MRI showed severe degeneration, decreased joint space, bone spurs and cysts. This man underwent a stem cell transfer in an effort to regenerate cartilage in his hip. Bone marrow was extracted from this patient, processed and injected into the affected hip. After the first stem cell treatment the patient reported some improvements in his hip although the MRI showed no change. One month later a second treatment was done and resulted in increased joint space and increased range of motion. The patient reported that he was able to stand for longer periods of time, enjoyed travel and recreation and was able to walk further and sit with less pain. The researchers concluded that this man did in fact have cartilage regeneration and that bone marrow therapies hold great promise for joint degeneration.
“All patients considering joint-preserving hip arthroscopy should be educated on the risk of total hip replacement after arthroscopy.”2
In this research, doctors looked at 96 patients over the age of 50 who had “joint-preserving hip arthroscopy.” Of the 96 patients, 31 went on to have total hip replacement. That’s approximately one in three patients who had “joint-preserving” surgery that led to replacing the joint. But the numbers are not what this research was all about. The research sought to predict who would need the hip replacement after the arthroscopy – and the best predictions came after radiographic evidence. If there was joint space of 2 mm or less (meaning the cartilage had worn down) 80% of those patients would need total hip replacement.
There are several reasons why your doctor may recommend hip replacement surgery. Recently, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons published general criteria which included the following reasons:
- Hip pain that limits everyday activities, such as walking or bending
- Hip pain that continues while resting, either day or night
- Stiffness in a hip that limits the ability to move or lift the leg
- Inadequate pain relief from anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, or walking supports
The difficulty in diagnosing hip pain accurately and unnecessary surgery
Research suggests that doctors must differentiate between radiating pain from the lumbar spine to the hip - and – pain originating from the hip itself. Physicians are warned that without making this connection patients may be subjected to hip replacement for back pain and back surgery for hip pain with neither surgery addressing the patients true cause of pain and leading to “Failed Surgery Syndrome.”
- The research concludes: “…(There is) evidence for an association between hip pain and disk space narrowing at disk level L1/L2 and L2/L3. In case of uncertainty of the cause of hip pain, evaluation of lumbar radiographs may help to identify those hip pain patients who might have pain arising from the lumbar spine.”3
Recently other research said the opposite. They say that the incorrect diagnosis of spinal stenosis in patients with primary hip arthritis can lead to devastating consequences, especially if this leads to inappropriate spinal surgery, repeated spinal surgery and costly testing. In this research, doctors in South Africa examined the high prevalence of wrong site operations. 4
“Physicians should not replace clinical observation with the use of magnetic resonance images (MRI).”
The above statement 5 and similiar research suggests that reliance on MRI in the determining of the need for hip replacement can lead to unnecessary surgery. In instances when hip or lumbar pain is difficult to pinpoint or diagnose,physicians should be aware that hip ligament and tendon problems are in play. In a physical examination, a physician palpates the junction points of ligaments and bones and tendons to muscle in the patient looking for an exact site of injury and his/her ability at reproducing the pain. This can help both patient and doctor detemine the more probable cause of the patient’s discomfort.
Types of Hip Replacement To Consider
In the latest research doctors acknowledge that there are many different types of hip replacement to consider as there are evolvements in the design, fixation methods, size, and bearing surface of implants for total hip replacement. One problem with so many options and different replacement parts, is the need to determine the best combinations of implants. What worried the doctors was that while short-term benefits were apparant for many patients – the effectiveness of the hip replacement in the long-term is of great concern.
- The reason? Medical research is inconclusive due to poor reporting, missing data, or uncertainty in treatment estimates.(Were the patients experiencing the great improvements or did they doctors think the patients were having great improvement).6
Pain and complications after hip replacement
In this section we will discuss issues of hip replacement complications. Metal-on-metal total hip replacements have shown a number of adverse effects 7. Some recipients of these hip replacements have complained of severe pain and immobility after tiny metal fragments have chipped off and damaged surrounding tissue. As a result, many who receive metal-on-metal hip replacements have elevated blood levels of chromium and cobalt, two metals used in these hip replacements.8 There has also been a greater need for revision surgery, a procedure where surgeons must re-open the hip for repair.9 Another hip arthritis treatment is hip resurfacing. Instead of completely replacing the hip joint, metal “caps” are placed on the articular surfaces of the femur and pelvic socket. Numerous reports continue to pour in about the adverse effects of metal-on-metal hip replacements. We’ve written before about the dangers of hip replacements and the complications associated with all-metal hip replacements. Recent articles are further revealing the trouble with metal-on-metal hip replacements. 10,11
- Heavy metal leaching into the blood
- Friction of the metal destroying bone and muscle.
- Residual pain and disability
- High incidence of revision surgery or early removal of artificial hip
- Necessity of regular MRI scans to assess the status of the artificial hip.
Recent research including that appearing in the British Medical Journal, found that 7 to 23% of patients who had hip replacement continued to have long term unresolved pain. . . There is an urgent need to improve general awareness of this possibility and to address determinants of good and bad outcomes.”12
Assessing the patient’s post treatment success – Surgery
The decision to go to any joint replacement is a big one. In medicine, a great deal of emphasis is placed on scores to help clinicians decide before a joint replacement who had the best chance for surgical success. A recent study looked at the “Oxford” scoring system of over 3000 patients who had a hip or knee replacement. The purpose of the study was to help doctors identify and prioritize those patients who had best chance of success. At the end of the study the doctors found that pre-operative Oxford scores have no predictive accuracy in distinguishing satisfied from dissatisfied patients. Further, Oxford hip and knee scores have no predictive accuracy in relation to post-operative patient satisfaction. This evidence does not support their current use in prioritising (sp) access to care.13 A follow up study has been undertaking to help correct this scoring problem.14
Concerns with pseudo tumor development after Hip Replacements
A surgeon in the Netherlands recently published an article discussing new concerns of pseudo-tumors developing around the hip replacement or resurfaced site. They are caused by an adverse reaction to metal debris, as in a local metal allergy or sensitivity. Patients who present with pseudo-tumors experience:
- soft tissue masses in the groin, pain,
- swelling and discomfort in the leg and groin and compression of the neurovascular bundle (nerves, arteries, veins and lymphatics that travel together).
The development of pseudo-tumors has caused some surface replacement to be recalled from the markets and medical registries in England, Wales, New Zealand and Australia have all seen increases in rates of revision arthroplasties. Both the British Orthopaedic Association and the Dutch Orthopeadic Association have issued strong warning on the metal treatments for hip arthritis, with the Dutch recommending a complete cessation of using hip resurfacing and hip replacements.
Chromium and Cobalt Poisoning from Hip Replacements
One danger in joint replacement is the wearing away of the all-metal joints that lead to heavy metals leaking into the blood. We recently had a client whose blood chromium level was 25 times the normal range and whose blood cobalt level was 13 times the normal level. His doctor thought these were from some of his joint replacements. We did some further investigation and found that heavy metal toxicity is common among joint replacement recipients.15 The Journal of Orthopaedic Research published a four-year study of cobalt and chromium blood levels in 259 patients with one of two types of all-metal hip replacements. All the patients had higher cobalt and chromium levels compared to the control group. And even worse than our patient mentioned above, this study showed cobalt concentrations up to 50 times higher and chromium concentrations up to 100 times higher than the control group. Heavy Metal Toxicity causes a whole host of serious problems – visual impairment, cardiomyopathy, cognitive impairment, hearing impairment, hypothyroidism, peripheral neuropathy, and rashes.Some cases of cobalt poisoning have reported blindness, deafness, heart failure, peripheral neuropathy, rashes, and hypothyroidism.
Alternatives to Hip Replacement Surgery
Joint replacements can be avoided with Prolotherapy, an injection therapy that stimulates healing in the body to regenerate cartilage and soft tissue.16 Often patients seek a doctor’s opinion after having had a hip arthroscopy. While some have experienced temporary relief of pain and symptoms, others continue to experience the same problems following surgery. It is unfortunate that these individuals were not offered Prolotherapy, Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy, or Stem Cell Therapy first, instead of surgery. The unfavorable long-term results of joint arthroscopy should not be surprising. Removing tissue from joints may provide a temporary pain-relieving benefit, but long-term, the patient is left with a weaker joint, more susceptible to degeneration.
Stem Cell Therapy for Chronic Hip Pain
We are discovering study after study that proves the benefit of bone marrow in treating chronic pain. In our experience, we have seen excellent results using bone marrow as a proliferant for healing. Stem cell injection therapy is just one treatment option that we offer sports injuries, chronic pain and arthritis of the hip.
Are you a candidate for Prolotherapy, Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy, or Stem Cell Therapy?
In our research published in the Journal of Prolotherapy we sought to show how Prolotherapy could provide high levels of patient satisfaction while avoiding hip surgery. Here is what was reported:
- We examined sixty-one patients, representing 94 hips, who had been in pain an average of 63 months.
- We treated these patients quarterly with Prolotherapy. Included in this patient group was twenty patients who were told by their doctors that there were no other treatment options for their pain and eight patients who were told by their doctor that surgery was their only option.
Results: In these 94 hips,
- 89% experienced more than 50% of pain relief with Prolotherapy; more than 84% showed improvements in walking and exercise ability, anxiety, depression and overall disability; 54% were able to completely stop taking pain medications.16
Prolotherapy and Hip Pain
Assessing the patient’s post treatment success – Prolotherapy
When we receive hip x-rays on discs or film from prospective patients, they provide an estimated prognosis, which is their best assessment of how many Prolotherapy treatments might be needed to achieve the patient’s goals.This is more difficult to assess when they do not have the opportunity to examine the patient in person, but they are able to give a good estimate based on the information provided. Rating a hip Prolotherapy Candidate: We will rate the potential hip pain patient on a sliding scale of being a very good Prolotherapy candidate to a very poor one. In a very good candidate’s x-ray, the ball of the femur will be round, fitting nicely into the socket in the pelvis, with good spacing between these two bones. This space is the cartilage that cushions and allows the femur to rotate freely within the socket. Prolotherapy prognosis for hip patients: The prognosis ranking is lowered from very good to good, to questionable to guarded to poor, based on the following criterion: 1. Amount of joint space or cartilage that remains (See cartilage repair). 2. The presence or absence of bone spurs (osteophytes), and their locations 3. The shape of the femoral head itself In very poor candidates, the hip does not even look like a hip anymore; the ball is flattened or egg-shaped and does not fit into the socket as well. Once the damage is so extensive, the patient will need a recommendation total hip replacement. We recently saw a patient whose hip looked just like we described above. The physical exam proved limited external and internal rotation, and the x-ray the patient brought confirmed bone spurs, also called osteophytes. It was these extensive osteophytes that were preventing the full range of motion in that patient’s hip. Bone spurs do not always preclude someone from doing well with Prolotherapy, however, much depends on the extent, size and location of the spurs. Unfortunately we had to refer this particular patient for hip replacement, but he went into it with full knowledge of the extent of his degenerative joint disease and the confidence that a conservative care clinic had recommended it. This case shows that a second opinion from a non-surgical viewpoint can provide the patient a level of confidence that a hip replacement is really warranted in their situation. The message of this article is get a second opinion on your hip replacement recommendation from a doctor who specializes in non-surgical approaches like Prolotherapy. Many times the vast majority of our patients are able to eliminate their painful joint conditions without surgery.
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8. Bates, C. Hope, J. Toxic metal hip implants ‘could affect thousands more people than PIP breast scandal’. . Accessed 3/7/2012
9. Beswick AD, Wylde V, Gooberman-Hill R, Blom A, Dieppe P. What proportion of patients report long-term pain after total hip or knee replacement for osteoarthritis? A systematic review of prospective studies in unselected patients. BMJ Open. 2012 Feb 22;2(1):e000435.Print 2012.
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11 Lhotka, C., Szekeres, T., Steffan, I., Zhuber, K. and Zweym BCllerK. (2003), Four-year study of cobalt and chromium blood levels in patients managed with two different metal-on-metal total
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16. Hauser R, Hauser M. A retrospective study on Hackett-Hemwall dextrose Prolotherapy for chronic hip pain at an outpatient charity clinic in rural Illinois. Journal of Prolotherapy. 2009;2:76-88.