Dr. Phillip Ludkowski, orthopedic surgeon, and his team at the  Illinois Bone & Joint Institute, help restore people's lifestyles through surgery.

Dr. Phillip Ludkowski, orthopedic surgeon, and his team at the Illinois Bone & Joint Institute, help restore people's lifestyles through surgery.

Wearing a black pencil skirt revealing a 10-inch scar that goes through her knee Lorri Winter walks across the room with swagger showing what she playfully calls her "America's Next Top Model" walk.

Three months following knee replacement surgery swagger isn't the only thing Winter has gotten back.

"My life is back," says the 49-year-old Elmhurst resident. "Things I enjoy I can do again."

Originally Winter was told she was too young for surgery and an X-ray showed no damage. But after months of physical therapy followed by steroid injections and wearing a brace — still with little relief — she sought a second opinion.

"I went to the zoo and I was wearing my brace. I did everything I was supposed to and I left in tears I was in so much pain," Winter says.

The second surgeon reviewed her X-ray and an MRI showing her knee was bone on bone and suggested knee replacement.

Joint effort

Many people are finding renewed movement through joint replacement surgery, but it isn't an in and out fix.

"People have a misconception that it's a simple operation and when you are done everything will be normal, almost like a bionic joint. It's not bionic, but it's a wonderful operation," Phillip Ludkowski, orthopedic surgeon with the Illinois Bone & Joint Institute, says of joint replacement.

No matter what the problem with the joint, Ludkowski says surgery is not done at the first sign of pain or discomfort.

People need to understand surgery is only half of it and joint replacement requires a large commitment to rehabilitation afterwards, especially for a knee.

If you go to a well-respected surgeon it is rare to offer surgery on a first visit, Ludkowski says.

"We do try everything to maximize conservative treatment," he says.

Ludkowski says typically a surgeon will get a detailed history and take X-rays to determine or confirm the cause or course of the pain. He says while the pain might be in the knee or hip it could be caused by a problem elsewhere, like the spine.

But when other routes don't work and it is a joint issue, surgery may be the next step.

Step up to surgery

So what does a joint replacement entail?

"Most patients think you are taking out a knee like you take out a carburetor and put in a new knee like putting in a new carburetor," Ludkowski says. The misconception is not surprising since it is called total knee replacement surgery, but it involves replacing the surface of the thigh, shin and kneecap bones with prosthesis made of metal and plastic. For the hip, Ludkowski says, it does involve removing the ball and replacing it and repairing the hip socket.

The precision comes in making sure the joint is straight and properly aligned and the ligaments are all balanced.

"It's a complex operation to do properly," he says.