Joint replacement means removing part or all of a damaged joint and installing hardware to allow the limb to move without pain or limitations. The replacement hardware is called a prosthesis. These are made of plastic, metal, ceramic, or a combination of these materials. Most joint replacements are performed to treat damage from arthritis to the knees or hips. Orthopedic surgeons do the procedure under general anesthesia.
The decision to replace a joint depends on several factors:
- How bad are the symptoms? Moderate to severe pain, stiffness, and limited function of the joint may indicate the need for a new joint.
- How bad is the damage to the joint? An x-ray or other imaging test can show if the bone and cartilage in the joint have deteriorated. The joint may also become misaligned. Moderate to severe joint damage is an indication for joint replacement.
- Does the joint problem limit daily activities and compromise a person's quality of life? This, too, indicates that joint replacement may be beneficial.
Like any major operation, joint replacement surgery carries the risk of possible complications. For example, there are small risks that you may have a reaction to the anesthesia, develop a blood clot, or contract an infection.
Age by itself does not prevent a person from getting a new joint, but being overweight or having a chronic health condition, such as heart disease, might raise the risks. It's also possible for the prosthesis to break, making it necessary to do a so-called revision procedure to fix it.
A hospital stay of a day or two is typical for knee or hip joint replacement. Physical therapy then helps the muscles around the new joint to get strong. Joint hardware can last 15 to 20 years or more, depending on the type and the person's level of physical activity.