Metal Joint Replacement – Should Allergy Testing Be Done First?

As our physically active baby boomers age, more and more of them are facing the need for joint replacement. We run, golf, bike and attend exercise class all in the name of fitness and cardiovascular health.  As a result, many of us have bodies that are becoming beat up and worn.

There have been numerous articles discussing the large increase in knee and hip replacements in active 50 year olds who wish to continue to be as active as they were prior to joint replacement surgery.  An article appeared in this week’s MedPage online journal about a small Italian study conducted regarding chronic pain in “successful “metal joint replacements in the lower extremity. Most of us know someone who had a perfectly unremarkable uncomplicated knee or hip replacement who is now suffering from unexplained pain at the surgically repaired joint site.  X Rays show perfect alignment. CT Scans and MRI scans show perfect surgical alignment. The patient remains in pain.

The study released by Italian researchers’ discusses allergic contact allergy being the cause of the continued pain. The individuals evaluated are allergic to the metals in the artificial joint. In the study subjects were patch tested in advance of joint replacement. Those showing allergic sensitivity to metals contained in the prosthesis received a hypoallergenic product instead. They did not develop the unexplained pain and discomfort and had a great outcome. While the study was small and the results preliminary, it raises the question of whether allergy patch testing prior to elective joint replacement should, and will, become the norm in the future.

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