The Surprising Side Effect of Joint Replacement

There’s nothing like pain to shut down the party.

Anyone suffering from chronic joint pain knows that it squeezes the fizz right out of life. When it hurts to move, not only is the ability to accomplish everyday tasks limited, but quality of life, self-esteem, and mood are also affected. Not to mention one’s sex life.

Bottom line? Viagra won’t do a couple much good if joint pain makes sex unbearable.

Makes sense when you think about it, but the extent to which joint replacement perked up the recipient’s sex life was unexpected. The results of a small study conducted by orthopedic surgeon, Dr. José Rodriguez were reported recently in The New York Times and other media.

The study involved a series of 3 surveys of 147 patients who had received either knee or hip replacement. Both men and women participated in the study; the mean age was just under 58 years old.

Before joint replacement, 67 percent had problems with sex, which ranged from pain and stiffness to actually being unable to get into position. Additionally, almost all of them (91 percent) reported a diminished sense of well-being.

In post-surgery interviews, 90 percent of patients—both men and women—reported an improvement in their sex lives, which included an increase in libido, greater stamina, and more frequent intercourse. Hip or knee replacement "offers improvement in sexual activity and overall sexuality to patients after surgery, especially if (sexuality) is affected before surgery," said Dr. Rodriguez in an article in Science Daily.

Too frequently, however, matters of intimacy don’t figure into the conversation, either before or after joint replacement, and that’s too bad.

A small percentage of respondents to Dr Rodriguez’s study were actually afraid to have sex, often for fear of damaging their new joint. A few tips could have addressed that anxiety. The quality of a patient’s love life is directly linked to overall well-being and should be part of a pre-surgical assessment as well as post-surgical guidance. Such a conversation could address any fears and increase a patient’s confidence.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Claudette LaJam gets so many questions about sex after joint replacement that she created a page on her website to discuss the issue. That page now gets more hits than any other on her website. (Another excellent source of information is here.)

So, while no one looks forward to surgery, the possibility of better sex could give the dark cloud a silver lining—and also perhaps give those who’ve been dodging the issue another gentle nudge to consider the benefits of joint replacement.

“I never want to see someone’s intimacy with a partner destroyed because of a joint problem,” Dr. Rodriguez said in an article in a recent AARP magazine. “Sexual function needs to be discussed with patients when we make routine evaluations. I’ve found most patients to be very receptive to talking about it.”


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