Is Joint Replacement Surgery Safe During COVID-19?

You might not *have* to delay your joint replacement during COVID-19.

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At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many hospitals postponed elective surgeries, such as joint replacement surgery. First, it reduced patient foot traffic in hospitals to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Furthermore, it also helped make physicians available to help with COVID-19 patients in hospitals that experienced staff shortages. Now that it’s several months later, is it safe to have joint replacement during COVID-19?

Most likely, according to William Macaulay, MD, orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone Health. However, that decision is between you and your surgeon, and there are safe ways to delay the surgery.

“Even though we consider [joint replacement] surgeries urgent, they're usually not emergencies,” says Dr. Macaulay. As a result, if you don’t feel comfortable having the surgery during the pandemic, there are ways to delay the surgery safely while helping you cope with the joint pain.

Joint Replacement During COVID-19: Safety Procedures

You might be nervous about going to a hospital during COVID-19, but the truth is, not all hospitals have the same infection risk. “I tell my patients who are concerned … that one of the safest places in the world to be right now is an orthopedic subspecialty hospital,” says Dr. Macaulay.

Prior to surgery, patients undergo a nasal swab test to check their COVID-19 status. “You can't have surgery there, whether it be ambulatory surgery or remain as an in-patient,” if the test reveals you have COVID-19, says Dr. Macaulay.

Additionally, Dr. Macaulay says the entire staff receive monitoring as well. Finally, facilities are limiting visitors during joint replacement surgery to minimize the number of people in the hospital.

All that said, the surgeon’s primary concern is the health and safety of the patient. If, for whatever reason, facilities deem elective surgeries unsafe, they will tell the patient and help them reschedule the operation.

Delaying Surgery: Tips to Cope with Pain

Although Dr. Macaulay is confident in the safety of joint replacement during COVID-19, some patients may feel nervous and want to postpone. In this case, the concern is how to support the patient as they continue with severe joint pain.

“Typically, patients who are getting ready for planned hip or knee replacement surgery have already done everything they could to put off setting up that surgery,” says Dr. Macaulay. The treatments that the patient used before scheduling the surgery are the same treatments that can help them cope when they postpone the surgery, including:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (such as ibuprofen)
  • Other pain relievers like Tylenol
  • Walking-assistive devices like canes, walkers, or crutches
  • Physical therapy
  • Cortisone injections in the affected joint

These treatment options, alone or in combination, can help relieve pain until the patient feels more comfortable having the surgery.

Having joint pain but haven’t scheduled your surgery yet? Learn more about how to prepare for joint replacement surgery here, and find out what to expect during joint replacement here.