Can You Be Too Old For a Hip or Knee Replacement?

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older man and woman walking down paved path

Hip and knee replacements are among the most common elective surgeries, and these days they are routinely done for patients who are well into their 80’s and even their 90’s.

Osteoarthritis, a common reason for joint replacement, tends to get worse with age. So, it makes sense that older people who wish to remain active and live independently would turn to surgery to remedy pain and disability, if conservative measures fail.

UH orthopedic surgeon Steven Fitzgerald, MD, says there is no upper age limit for knee and hip replacement surgery. A patient’s overall health is the main consideration.

“The oldest hip I replaced in the last 10 years was in a man who was 100 years old,” Dr. Fitzgerald says. “Age is relative. Data shows patients in their 80’s and 90’s benefit from hip and knee replacement the same as patients who are younger.”

Better Techniques, Technology

Improvements in surgical techniques and technology over the decades have made the procedures easier on patients, and much more effective. More than 450,000 total hip replacements and 700,000 knee replacements are performed every year in the United States.

“Well over 90 percent of our patients go directly home after surgery, even those at an advanced age,” Dr. Fitzgerald says. “They don’t need to go to a rehabilitation facility afterward. They have physical therapy come to their house.”

During the surgery, the arthritic portion of hips and knees are removed and replaced with implants made of metal, plastic and sometimes ceramic.

Total joint replacement may be recommended if non-surgical treatments do not relieve chronic pain and disability. A severely damaged knee or hip makes it hard to perform daily activities such as walking and climbing steps, and often causes pain while at rest.

Dr. Fitzgerald says all patients regardless of age undergo a comprehensive medical evaluation to make sure they can handle surgery and rehabilitation. Patients in their 90’s are more likely than younger patients to have medical issues, and some may be too frail or at elevated risk for complications. Decisions are made on a case by case basis using a shared decision-making model involving the patient, their families and other doctors to determine fitness for surgery.

Related Links

Our fellowship-trained joint surgeons employ the latest technologies and materials for joint replacement procedures, using minimally invasive techniques for faster recovery and less pain. We perform thousands of joint replacements each year and are consistently recognized as one of the best programs in the nation. UH offers in-person and virtual orthopedic consultations. Learn more  about joint replacement surgery at University Hospitals.

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