What is it?

Joint replacement surgery removes damaged or diseased parts of a joint and replaces them with new, man-made parts. 

Replacing a joint can reduce pain and help you move and feel better. Hips and knees are replaced most often. Other joints that can be replaced include the shoulders, fingers, ankles, and elbows.

Why may it be needed?

Joints may need to be replaced when they are damaged from:

  • Arthritis.
  • Years of use.
  • Disease.

Your doctor will likely first suggest other treatments to reduce pain and help you move better, such as:

  • Walking aids, such as a cane or walker.
  • An exercise program.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Medications.

Sometimes the pain remains and makes daily activities hard to do. In this case, your doctor may order an x-ray to look at the joint. If the x-ray shows damage and your joint hurts, you may need a joint replacement.

What happens during?

During joint replacement your doctors will:

An illustration showing a hip prosthesis that is used in hip replacement surgery.
Hip Replacement Location
  • Give you medicine so you won’t feel pain. The medicine may block the pain only in one part of the body, or it may put your whole body to sleep.
  • Replace the damaged joint with a new man-made joint.
  • Move you to a recovery room until you are fully awake or the numbness goes away.

What can I expect after?

With knee or hip surgery, you will probably need to stay in the hospital for a few days. If you are elderly or have additional disabilities, you may then need to spend several weeks in an intermediate-care facility before going home. You and your team of doctors will determine how long you stay in the hospital.

After hip or knee replacement, you will often stand or begin walking the day of surgery. At first, you will walk with a walker or crutches. You may have some temporary pain in the new joint because your muscles are weak from not being used. Also, your body is healing. The pain can be helped with medicines and should end in a few weeks or months.

Physical therapy can begin the day after surgery to help strengthen the muscles around the new joint and help you regain motion in the joint. If you have your shoulder joint replaced, you can usually begin exercising the same day of your surgery! A physical therapist will help you with gentle, range-of-motion exercises. Before you leave the hospital, your therapist will show you how to use a pulley device to help bend and extend your arm.

What are the complications?

Complications after joint replacement surgery are much lower than they used to be. When problems do occur, most are treatable. Problems could include:

  • Infection.
  • Blood clots.
  • Loosening of the joint.
  • Ball of the new joint comes out of its socket.
  • Wear on joint replacements.
  • Nerve and blood vessel injury.

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