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What is total joint replacement?

If other treatments don't work, your doctor may recommend joint replacement surgery to relieve arthritis pain.

Pain from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can leave you wishing for a brand-new knee. It's not an outrageous thought: Joints can be replaced.

Total joint replacement is used when arthritis has caused severe damage to a joint's cartilage. The damaged joint is replaced with an artificial joint.

This relieves the pain and disability caused by the arthritis and allows a person to return to everyday activities, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Replacement surgery

Joint replacement will only be considered after nonsurgical alternatives fail to relieve pain and disability.

During surgery, the damaged parts of the joint are removed and artificial parts are inserted to replace them.

Artificial joint components may be made of metal, ceramic or plastic. Bone cement may be used to anchor the components to bones, or cementless joints, in which the replacement and the bone are made to fit directly together, may be used.

The recovery period after surgery depends on the person's overall health and which joint was replaced.

In general, people are encouraged to use the joint shortly after the operation. The doctor will recommend exercises to strengthen the joint.


Risks of joint replacement surgery include blood clots, infection, loosening, dislocation and nerve injury.

Infection can occur at any time, even years after the surgery, and can be prevented or treated with antibiotics. Artificial joints can become infected when bacteria travel from the mouth, skin or elsewhere and get lodged in the new joint. If it is a deep infection, it may require further surgery and removal of the new joint. To help prevent this complication, tell your dentist that you've had a joint replacement and talk to your doctor before you have any dental work performed. You may need to take antibiotics before some dental procedures.

Blood clots can be prevented with medicines, exercises, or special clothing or equipment. If you're at risk for blood clots after surgery, your surgeon will tell you how to prevent this complication.

A permanent replacement

Most older people can expect their total joint replacement to last a lifetime. It can provide years of pain-free living.

Reviewed 8/14/2023

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