EVERY year thousands of patients in the UK have their lives changed by hip and knee replacement surgery.

This is often after much pain over a long period and these operations have transformed lives for those whose movement – and existence - has been severely restricted.

The most common reasons for a hip replacement is osteoarthritis and other conditions that cause the joint to wear out like rheumatoid arthritis, a hip fracture, septic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis or disorders that cause unusual bone growth.

Knee replacement may be down to osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, haemophilia, gout, or knee injury or deformity among other causes.

Our expectations of joint replacement surgery are now very high because we have become used to these operations but the reality may not always live up to this.

Bolton consultant orthopaedic surgeon Gordon Shephard, who sees both NHS and private patients, has been witnessing the transformations that surgery can offer patients for the past 25 years through around 2,000 joint replacement operations. He warns, however, that our expectations can sometimes exceed the actual results.

“These are not ‘new’ hips and knees, as people often describe them,” he said. “They are replacements for the old ones and they will never work as well as they did, especially knees which are complex.”

Joint replacement operations are undoubtedly remarkable. I am just one of the many who have benefited, having had both hips and my right knee replaced to allow me to remain active and pain-free.

But, while Mr Shepard recognises that replacement surgery may still be the best option for many patients, in the last few years he has become an active supporter of Regenerative Medicine which uses the body’s own healing power instead.

He points to the risks of replacement surgery - blood clots, death, infections – and the fact that, for a percentage of patients with arthritic pain but whose joints are not necessarily sufficiently worn out – replacement surgery is not an option.

Instead, he now treats many patients with less invasive and highly effective systems under the banner of Regenerative Medicine.

These include Platelet Rich Plasma which revolves around how the body uses platelets to clot blood, as when a cut scabs over, and to promote healing. By using a centrifuge, proteins called growth factors are isolated which can then be injected into the affected joint. This can be performed in Outpatients, relieves arthritis pain and is non-invasive.

Another simple injection is nStride APS which restores the protein balance which causes cartilage breakdown in the joints. This is also an outpatient procedure, needing a one-hour clinic visit, and it slows, halts and may repair cartilage damage in arthritis.

Lipogems is a cutting-edge process that transforms the body’s own fat into cushioning and support for an injury. “Medics in the First World War treated injured soldiers from the frontlines with fat,” explained Mr Shephard. “Since then, doctors have refined those healing properties with innovative treatments like this system.”

Painful arthritic joints may have bone marrow lesions which can be treated with bone augmentation or subchondroplasty. This uses a substitute material to fill bone.

Along with these treatments, Mr Shepard also advises his patients on the importance of diet and exercise in looking after joints. On his website www.regeneratemyself.co.uk he suggests fish high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring, using extra virgin olive oil and eating cherries, dairy products, citrus fruits, garlic whole grains, beans and nuts. Green tea also promotes healthy joints.

“We can do so much more today to help ourselves but we need to take responsibility for our lifestyle and do something about it,” he said.