ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — When joint pain is limiting your movement and impacting your life, could replacement be the answer? A local woman with two new hips showed NEWS10’s Lydia Kulbida how surgery helped her reach new peaks.
Thousands of runners filled the streets of Troy in the 2022 Turkey Trot. Among the happy smiling faces was Allison Marinucci, with a bigger smile at the finish to celebrate her fastest 5k of the year.
That’s in stark contrast to just a few months before, when Allison had both hips replaced after two years of pain. “Not being able to walk properly, not being able to sleep properly, if I worked out I paid a huge price for it,” she recalled about the impact on her life.
Allison is not your typical hip replacement patient. At only 40, she’s been an active athlete for her entire life. She was a swimmer before turning to hiking and running, completing several ultra marathons
The wear and tear on her bones compounded congenital hip dysplasia where the joints had not formed properly. “The doctor told me I had the hips of someone in their mid-80s,” Allison said. “That was kind of nutty to hear.” The decision to undergo surgery on both hips came after physical therapy and other options failed to relieve the heavy weight of constant pain.
“A lot of times, what we hear is, ‘Wow, I should have done this a long time ago, because the pain is gone! I feel great and now I can get back to the things I love doing,'” noted Patrick Suarez, the owner of Suarez Physical Therapy in Latham. That was certainly the case for Allison, who was hiking with her son five weeks after her second surgery.
“Hip injuries for us are up there, they’re probably 60 to 70% of what we see because we typically work with more active people,” said Suarez. With such a high volume of hip injuries, Suarez knew Allison wasn’t responding to initial physical therapy as she should. He suggested further imaging, which revealed a loss of cartilage that left just bone-on-bone connection in both of her hip joints.
“It was definitely like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s crazy!'” Allison said. “Honestly, I was relieved to know what was wrong after just hurting and getting worse for two years.”
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Matthew Tetreault said that people don’t have to live with pain. “The old teaching was,” he said, “‘Wait as long as you can.'” He added that this has changed in the face of improving surgical techniques and replacement materials, and patients started getting younger.
“If a patient is in pain and has a diagnosis, and the extent of disease that would warrant a hip replacement, you don’t necessarily need to wait as long as we used to think,” said Dr. Tetreault. “You’re sacrificing quality years of life.”
Once the decision is made, what does the surgery entail? It takes less than two hours for a surgeon to remove the damaged joint and replace it with a ceramic head, resting in a plastic liner and a metal stem.
“In essence, we’re creating a new joint by removing that arthritic head. We use a stem that goes into the femur. We use a new socket that resurfaces,” explained Dr. Tetreault as he showed a replacement. “The bone grows onto the implant. This is a biologic relationship that’s durable over time.”
Recovery begins immediately, with walking soon after the anesthesia wears off. Next, several weeks of physical therapy improve strength and range of motion. But as with any surgery, there are risks.
“Any time you make an incision on the skin, there’s the potential you have nerve injury damage to blood vessels,” said Dr. Tetreault, adding that there are some risks unique to hip replacement. “Now that you have metal in you, any fall that breaks a bone can lead to complications with the replacement itself, too.”
But when the constant pain that limited your movements or kept you from sleeping is gone, Dr. Tetreault noted, “Hip replacement patients, in general, are some of our happiest patients.”
“I’m glad that I did it, and I’m glad it’s behind me,” said Allison about her surgeries. “It feels like a gift, it really does.”
Talking to other patients is helpful for patients who want to know what lies ahead when recovering from hip replacement surgery. That’s why News10’s Lydia Kulbida is glad a mutual friend introduced her to Allison for this story. Lydia is undergoing the same procedure and will spend the next month getting stronger and faster.