What are Joint Replacements?
A joint replacement surgery can be performed in any part of the body, but it is most often a total knee replacement or partial knee replacement, as well as a total hip replacement or partial hip replacement. Partial joint replacements involve only replacing the part of the joint that is damaged. Joint replacement prosthetics are artificial joints that are made of ceramic, metal or plastic. The artificial joint looks and moves similarly to the natural joint.
When Joint Surgery is Recommended
A doctor may recommend arthroplasty if their patient suffers from one or more of the following symptoms:
- Joint stiffness and limited mobility, making it difficult or impossible to perform everyday activities.
- Swelling and inflammation that isn’t responding to medications or lifestyle adjustments.
- Joint pain that doesn’t lessen or resolve with physical therapy, bracing, medications, injections, walking assistive devices, or other nonsurgical treatments.
There are several conditions that can indicate the need for joint replacements and cause the symptoms above, including:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Joint abnormalities
- Avascular necrosis
If your orthopaedic surgeon finds that joint replacement surgery is the best treatment option for your condition, it is important to understand the three primary stages of surgery. Whether it’s a knee joint replacement or hip replacement, the three primary stages of a surgery include prior to surgery, during the surgical procedure and recovery.
Prior to Surgery
When preparing for arthroplasty, your doctor will discuss the surgery and provide you with an opportunity to ask questions. They will recommend actions to take before the surgery, such as eating a healthy diet and quitting smoking. Your doctor may also suggest that you take steps to arrange for help at home and purchase items to help with movement around the house such as handrails, a long-handled reacher, and a shower bench.
Prior to surgery, your doctor will run several tests to evaluate your overall health, including blood work, a chest X-ray, and an electrocardiogram. Depending on your health history and surgical plan, a CT scan or MRI may be required.
The joint surgery can be performed at an outpatient clinic, such as the Puget Sound Surgery Center, or a hospital. The surgical techniques used by your surgeon will depend on the type of surgery and joint needing to be replaced. Regardless of the type of joint replacement being performed, general anesthesia will be administered before making incisions and removing the damaged joint.
Once the joint has been removed, the surgeon will replace it with the artificial one and then use stitches, surgical glue, or staples to close the incision before wrapping the area in a bandage. Depending on the type of joint surgery performed, you may need to wear a brace or sling during recovery. The techniques used in the course of surgery are minimally invasive, using advanced technology and tools that require fewer incisions and allow for a shorter recovery time.
Depending on the joint surgery performed, you may be able to leave the surgery center or hospital on the day of surgery. You will need someone to take you home and help you with household chores and personal care.
For the first few days following the procedure, you should:
- Keep the incisions clean and covered. Ask your doctor how to care for your bandages and how to rewrap the incision site, as well as proper cleaning.
- Avoid physical activity and take time to rest. Your doctor may recommend using a cold compress or ice on the new joint throughout the day.
- Depending on where the new joint was placed, you may need to keep it elevated while resting. As an example, for knee replacements, you would keep your foot on a stool while recovering.
- Take pain medication as prescribed or recommended by your doctor. They may also recommend other medications to reduce swelling and prevent blood clots from forming.
Recovery time is different for everyone. Returning to normal activities is a conversation you can have with your doctor, but it depends on several factors:
- The joint that was replaced
- Health conditions
- If a total or partial joint replacement was performed
- Activity level and lifestyle