Joint Replacement Surgery
- Approximately 790,000 total knee replacements and over 450,000 hip replacements are performed annually in the U.S. This number continues to grow as our population ages.
- Total joint replacement is one of the safest and most reliable treatments in any area of medicine. A hip or knee replacement done today typically can be expected to last for 20 or more years. In fact, for most patients, total joint replacement surgery will be a lifelong solution for arthritis of the hip or knee.
- Total joint replacement should be considered as a possible treatment option only after a reasonable attempt at non-surgical management has been determined to be unsuccessful.
Modern joint replacement surgeries are performed by orthopedic surgeons and involve removal of the worn cartilage from both sides of the joint, followed by resurfacing of the joint with a metal and plastic replacement implant that looks and functions much like your normal joint.
What determines the appropriateness of joint surgery?
Joint replacement surgery is typically recommended for patients with advanced end stage joint disease (usually of the knee or the hip) who have tried non-surgical treatment, but still experience functional decline and disabling pain. Severe or “end-stage” arthritis can be caused by a variety of problems including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory joint problems, previous joint injuries and fractures, joint infections and other rare conditions such as osteonecrosis.
The decision to proceed with replacement is based on your general medical condition and fitness for surgery, and how much your arthritis affects your quality of life. Prior to surgery, talk to your primary care doctor to ensure your health is good enough to undergo the anesthesia and rehabilitation associated with the surgery.
Your need for joint replacement surgery can be minimized by comprehensive medical treatment of your arthritis. Arthritis medications; exercise modification to low impact activities (e.g., swimming, walking, biking, etc.); weight loss; nutritional supplements; and joint injections can help you live with your arthritis for as long as possible. When these treatments are no longer effective and you experience pain as well as decrease in function, joint replacement surgery can relieve the pain and restore the quality of life lost due to arthritis.
Living with joint replacement
Following a relatively short period of recovery after surgery involving physical therapy, patients undergoing joint replacement surgery typically return to a high level of activity. Speed of recovery following surgery depends on your level of activity before surgery, general health and overall physical fitness, degree, and duration of physical impairment before surgery, and the type of surgery you had.
Updated February 2023 by Bhakti Shah, MD, and reviewed by the American College of Rheumatology Communications and Marketing Committee.
This information is provided for general education only. Individuals should consult a qualified health care provider for professional medical advice, diagnosis and treatment of a medical or health condition.