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A doctor inspecting a patient whose knees have been replaced.


Joint Replacement: The Basics

Joint replacement surgery is a procedure aimed at replacing damaged joints with a metal, plastic, or ceramic device called a prosthesis. In this article, we will focus on the basics of joint replacement in an effort to educate those who may be recommended for joint surgery.

What is Total Joint Replacement Surgery?

Joint replacement surgery is a procedure where a surgeon removes a damaged joint and places an artificial part in its place. The procedure can be a total or partial replacement and will be done by a specialist called an orthopedic surgeon. A total joint replacement procedure can be done on an ankle, shoulder, wrist or elbow, but it is most commonly used for knee replacements and hip replacements.

Total Knee Replacement and Partial Knee Replacement

If your doctor recommends a total knee replacement or knee arthroplasty, they are stating that in order to restore proper function and motion, the entire joint, including the kneecap and cartilage, needs to be removed and replaced with an artificial one.

For a partial knee replacement, only the damaged portions of the replaced with a prosthesis.

Total Hip Replacement and Partial Hip Replacement

For a total hip replacement or hip arthroplasty, both the femoral head and the acetabulum is removed. The femoral head is a single ball and the acetabulum is a joint socket. Replacing them with a prosthesis can ease the pain and restore motion in the hips.

A partial hip replacement or hemiarthroplasty replaces the femoral head with a metal ball to rotate inside the natural socket.

What Symptoms Indicate Joints Need Replacing?

Joint replacement, whether it is for the knee joint or the hip joint, is considered when non-surgical treatments have not been effective in easing pain or increasing mobility. Non-surgical treatments may include medication, braces, canes, physical therapy, and other walking aids. Beyond wear and tear causes, there are several diseases that can cause someone to become a candidate for replacement surgery:

  • Osteoarthritis: This disease is sometimes referred to as wear-and-tear arthritis. This disease damages the slick cartilage at the ends of bones which helps the joints move smoothly.
  • Osteonecrosis: This is when there is not enough blood supplied to the ball portion of the hip joint and can occur from a dislocation or fracture, leading the hip bone to collapse or deform.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: This is caused by an overactive immune system that creates inflammation, erodes cartilage, and can also erode the underlying bone. Ultimately it can result in damaged and deformed joints in the hip.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis: This type of arthritis results from sudden impact or trauma to the knee and causes damage to the cartilage.

Joint Procedure

Prior to the surgery, your primary care doctor will check your general health and arrange for any tests the orthopedic surgeon may require, In the weeks prior to your surgery, you may be advised to exercise, eat nutritiously and prepare your home for recovery.

You might consider purchasing a shower bench, a long-handled reacher, and handrails to help you move around safely. You will also want to arrange for someone to be with you at home to help with everyday tasks such as dressing and bathing.

Joint Surgery Overview

The joint replacement surgery can be performed at an outpatient clinic or a hospital. The surgical techniques used will depend on the type of surgery your orthopedic surgeon recommends. General anesthesia will likely be administered.

Once the damaged joint has been removed, the surgeon will replace it with the artificial prosthesis and then use stitches, surgical glue, or staples to close the incision before bandaging the area. 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, requiring fewer incisions which allows for a shorter recovery time.

Safeguarding Your Health During Recovery

You may be able to return home on the day of surgery or after a day or two stay in recovery. You will need someone to take you home and to help you around the house. To ensure your health and recovery aren’t harmed, you should listen to your doctor’s orders and follow this basic information:

  • Keep the incisions clean and covered. Ask your doctor how to care for your bandages, as well as proper cleaning and wrapping techniques.
  • Avoid physical activity and take time to rest, your doctor may recommend using a cold compress or ice on your new joint.
  • Depending on where the new hip or knee joint was placed, you may need to keep it elevated.
  • 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.

At Proliance Puget Sound Orthopaedics, we provide best-in-class orthopedic care to our community with compassion, caring, and dedicated expertise. If you’re suffering from any of the symptoms listed previously or need treatment for joint pain, we encourage you to call (253) 830–5200 or request an appointment online to see one of our physicians.


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