Joint replacement surgery is an option when arthritis, joint disease or damage cause pain and reduced mobility and nonsurgical pain relief no longer works.
What happens during joint replacement surgery?
Joint replacement surgery takes place in a hospital operating room while you are under anesthesia. During the procedure, the surgeon removes the damaged bone and cartilage, replacing them with prosthetic devices made of ceramic, metal or plastic.
Joint replacement surgery can be performed on hips, knees, shoulders, elbows, wrists and ankles. There are numerous approaches available to each of these procedures, and your doctor will discuss your options with you.
Why hip and knee replacement may be the right option for you.
Dr. Patrick O'Donnell explains when hip and knee reconstruction might be the right option for patients.
Speaker: Patrick O'Donnell, MD, PhD. Click here to read the transcript.
Hip Replacement: Before Your Surgery
Total hip replacement surgery — After the damaged areas are removed from the femur and the pelvis, the femoral head (the ball) is replaced with a metal stem that holds a ball made of ceramic or metal, and a metal socket replaces the socket’s cartilage surface. A spacer made of ceramic, metal or plastic ensures the new ball and socket glide as they should.
Knee Replacement Surgery
Total knee replacement surgery — The cartilage and bone removed from the femur and tibia are replaced with metal components. A spacer, usually made of plastic, ensures the hinge joint of the knee bends smoothly.
Shoulder Replacement Surgery
Total shoulder replacement surgery — Damaged bone and cartilage are removed from the shoulder. Typically, the ball of the humerus is replaced with a metal ball on a stem, and a plastic socket is inserted in the scapula to make the new ball-and-socket joint.
Total elbow replacement surgery — A prosthetic elbow joint is made of two metal stems and a plastic or metal hinge. After the damaged bone and cartilage are removed, the metal stems are inserted into the humerus and ulna to allow the hinge to bend like a natural elbow.
Total wrist replacement — Damaged bone and cartilage are cleared away, and metal prosthetics are placed on the radial and carpal bones. A plastic spacer helps the wrist work properly.
Total ankle replacement — After the damage to the tibia and talus bones is removed, metal prosthetics are added to the bone surfaces with a plastic spacer inserted between the metal.
What can I expect after surgical treatment?
Length of hospital stay varies depending on your overall health and the type of surgery performed.
You’ll begin using the replaced joint fairly soon after the surgery — sometimes even the same day. While this might be challenging due to pain or instability, following orders from the doctor or physical therapist will help you recover more quickly.
Pain medication prescribed by your surgeon will help you stay comfortable as your tissue heals and your body adjusts to the new joint. Over time, the pain will lessen, and surgical pain should go away within a few months.
Following surgery, you will either be sent home or to a rehabilitation facility. At home, you may need help cooking, cleaning, showering and doing household chores. A friend or family member may need to stay with you the first one or two weeks after surgery to act as your caregiver. Make sure your home is easy to get around and often-used items are kept within reach.
Outcomes following joint replacement surgery
Joint replacement surgery is one of the safest, most reliable procedures available. Roughly 7 million Americans have undergone joint replacement surgery, and their replaced joints will likely last 20 years or more.
Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.