Health & Medicine

What to expect from joint replacement if you’re having one

James Rollins
James Rollins

As people age, it’s common to experience pain, stiffness and swelling of the body, often a result of joint damage. Joint damage can be caused by arthritis or other diseases, and years of use, which can limit blood flow and cause problems in the bones. To help alleviate this pain and restore blood flow, joint replacement might be a solution.

This surgery has become more common, with more than 1 million joint replacements occurring each year in the United States, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

During a joint replacement surgery, doctors remove the damaged joint — where two or more bones come together — and replace it with a new one. However, in some cases the physician will only replace the damaged parts, rather than the entire joint.

Knee and hip replacements are the most commonly performed joint replacements; but the surgery can also be performed on the ankle, shoulder, elbow and wrist. The damaged joint is replaced with a prosthesis — a metal, ceramic or plastic device — that the bone will grow into and keep the new joint in place.

The new joint may be cemented into place for those who do not move around as much or have weak bones. Those who are younger with stronger bones may receive an uncemented joint, which takes more time for the bone to grow into. The prosthesis imitates the movement of a normal joint.

To determine whether a person needs a joint replacement, a physician will view the joint using an X-ray. Using an arthroscope, or a lighted tube, they will examine the joint for damage. If the physician determines that physical therapy, exercise, medication and lifestyle changes won’t alleviate the joint pain, a joint replacement might be needed. This is common for people who have trouble walking, or even doing daily activities such as climbing stairs.

During a joint replacement, the patient will be given anesthesia so they don’t feel pain during surgery. The physician will then replace the damaged joint with the prosthesis.

A hip or knee replacement often takes less than two hours, but the length of surgery will depend on how badly the joint is damaged. Patients will begin walking at first with crutches or a walker, and may experience pain as the body is healing. Physical therapy might also be necessary to help strengthen the muscles around the new joint.

Joint replacement surgeries will often last 15 to 20 years or more, but the patient will need to see their physician for follow-up X-rays to make sure the replaced joint isn’t experiencing wear and tear.

If you or someone you know is experiencing joint pain, it’s important to see a physician to make sure you don’t have joint damage. Joint replacement surgery is an effective way of eliminating joint pain, and improving a patient’s movement.

Dr. James Rollins is with KentuckyOne Health Orthopedic Associates.