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What to Know About Joint Replacement Surgery

Joint replacement surgery is major surgery to replace an entire joint in the body with an artificial one made of materials like plastic or metal. Hips and knees are the most commonly replaced joints, but ankles, elbows, fingers, shoulders and other body parts can be done, as well.

The design of replacement joints and the surgery itself have come a long way in recent years. Today, about 90 percent of joint replacement surgeries are considered successful.

Why you might need joint replacement surgery

Considering how extensive the surgery is, yet how much it can improve your quality of life, you have many pros and cons to consider before electing to have a joint replaced.

Many factors are used to determine the need for joint replacement surgery. Some of the factors that you and your doctor will consider are the extent and nature of the damage to the joint in question. Your doctor will carefully examine X-rays to obtain this information. In some cases, options like medication and/or specific exercises might help you manage the condition without extensive surgery. Joint replacement surgery is not a decision to be made lightly and will ultimately be arrived at after lengthy discussions with your doctor.

Are you a good candidate for a joint replacement?

Others factors will be considered to determine if you’re a good candidate for a joint replacement, such as your overall quality of life. If you are constantly in pain or have trouble getting around, joint replacement surgery may be right for you.

If you have serious health problems, such as heart disease or diabetes, your doctor may decide that a total joint replacement is too difficult for you to handle. In some instances, your age or your weight may make the surgery too risky for you, although even older people are finding great relief from joint replacement surgery.

If joint replacement surgery isn’t an option for you, your doctor may try alternatives such as braces or a cane to help you walk, medication, physical therapy, and supplements. For some people, surgery that only addresses part of the joint or the alignment of the joint might be helpful.

Types of joint replacement surgery

When the replacement joint is inserted during surgery, it may be cemented in place or left uncemented, so that the bone will grow onto it. Often, this decision is determined by your age. Cement to hold the joint securely in place is often the better option for older people who don’t move around as much or who have weaker bones. For younger, more mobile people with stronger bones, the uncemented joint is typically the better choice.

In either case, replacement joints tend to last 10 to 15 years, so younger people will likely have to go through the process again at some point in their life. This is another issue to consider when thinking about whether and when to have joint replacement surgery.