What Is a Joint Replacement?
A joint replacement is a surgery where damaged bone and cartilage in a joint—which is the meeting of two or more bones—are removed and replaced with metal and plastic parts called prostheses. Any of the larger joints of the body can be replaced, including the:
The hip and knee are the most commonly replaced joints.
Common Reasons for Joint Replacements
Osteoarthritis, the breakdown of the articular cartilage that coats the ends of bones in joints, is one of the main reasons for needing a joint replacement. Other common reasons include:
- Osteonecrosis, a disruption of a bone’s blood supply that causes bone to die
- Other forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and post-traumatic arthritis
- Severe fracture, sprain or tendon tear
Candidates for Joint Replacement
Candidates for joint replacement are people who have severe pain that interferes with daily activities and who have tried more conservative treatment methods without success. These nonsurgical treatments may include:
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Lifestyle changes such as losing weight or changing activities in order to ease the joint’s burden
- Physical therapy
- Steroid injections
The exact procedure will depend upon the joint. Most of the commonly replaced joints fall into either the hinge category (elbow and knee) or ball-and-socket category (shoulder and hip).
In general, hinge joints have the ends of the bones replaced with metal pieces that fit together in a hinge. Ball-and-socket joints will have both the ball and socket replaced with a metal implant, and a polystyrene spacer between the two.
After the surgery, physicians will use multiple pain control methods to speed recovery and rehabilitation. Physical therapy is utilized to strengthen the muscles around the joint and return range of motion. Recovery time will depend upon the joint replaced, but can range from several weeks to several months.
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