Joint replacement surgery is a common procedure where a damaged joint that is causing pain and/or disability is replaced with an artificial one, known as a prosthesis. The damage to the joint can be caused by multiple things, including arthritis, external damage, such as a fracture, or normal wear and tear. The most common joint replacements are the hip and knee; however, this procedure can be performed on several different joints.
Most joints are made up of two or three parts and any or all of these could be damaged, requiring replacement. If only a few parts are causing the problem, a partial joint replacement may be performed. A partial joint replacement removes and replaces only the damaged area of the joint, allowing you to keep the healthy portion. The more common procedure, however, is a total replacement where the entire joint is removed and replaced with an artificial one. This new prosthesis will mimic the movement and function of a healthy joint, allowing you to perform daily activities with less pain.
What to expect with surgery and recovery
A joint replacement is most often performed under general anesthesia. During the surgery, your doctor will make an incision and remove the damaged joint before replacing it with an artificial one made up of metal, ceramic, or plastic.
Generally, a joint replacement requires a short stay in the hospital but some patients may also need to spend a few weeks in rehabilitation center before they are ready to go home. After surgery, and often the same day as surgery, you will be able to use your new joint. If you had a hip or knee replacement, you may have to use crutches or a walker, but it’s important to start recovery soon after surgery.
You may experience some temporary pain while your body is healing but it is important to continue with the exercise and rehab program outlined by your doctor and healthcare team. Physical therapy will be an important piece of the recovery phase as it will help you strengthen the muscles around the new joint. As you continue to build those muscles, you will experience less pain and see an increase in flexibility and range of motion.
Recovery will vary for every person, but the majority of patients are able to perform normal daily activities and enjoy life with their new joint for several years.
Potential problems after joint replacement
Millions of joint replacements are performed each year with a high success rate, but as with any surgery, some risks do exist. Possible problems that could occur with a joint replacement include:
- Blood clots
- Loosening of the new joint that can cause pain
- Dislocation where the prosthesis comes out of its socket
- Nerve and blood vessel injury near the replacement
Many of these problems can be prevented or treated, so it is important to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any new or worsening pain after your joint replacement.