What is joint replacement surgery for osteoarthritis?

Dr. William A. Leone, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

Joint replacement surgery for osteoarthritis includes surgical procedures such as total hip replacement and total knee replacement. Total hip replacement surgery is a procedure where the diseased cartilage and bone of the hip joint are surgically replaced with artificial materials. The total hip replacement prosthesis consists of a ball which is made of metal or ceramic, which is held in a precise position by a metal stem. The stem is inserted down the marrow cavity of the femur. The ball is inserted into the new socket which consists of a liner with special wear characteristics and which is supported by a titanium shell placed next to living bone so that bone grows into it.

When a total knee replacement is performed, the bone and cartilage on the end of the thigh bone (femur), top of the shin bone (tibia) and the underneath surface of the patella or knee cap are replaced with metal and plastic parts so as the joint moves, the plastic slides against the metal parts and friction is minimized. The “art” is to perfectly realign the limb and balance the supportive tissue so the knee feels natural.

One way the knee is different than the hip is that the knee has three compartments rather than one. Depending on the location and severity of the arthritic process and the deformity, many times only one or possibly two of the compartments requires resurfacing. This has the advantage of a much smaller surgical dissection and faster recovery time.

Joint replacement surgery, or arthroplasty, removes a joint with severe osteoarthritis and replaces it with an artificial joint (implant). Joint replacement surgery is most commonly done on the knee or hip. It can also be performed on the shoulder, elbow, wrist and other joints. Joint replacement surgery is usually done when no nonsurgical treatment for the osteoarthritis is helping any more.

Another option is joint fusion, which is sometimes done in the spine or other joints, such as the ankles, wrists, toes and fingers, when someone is suffering from constant pain from osteoarthritis that hasn’t improved with other treatments.

Joint fusion permanently fuses two bones together so they no longer move independently. The surgeon joins the bones with pins, a bone graft, rods or screws. Since the osteoarthritis pain is caused by the bones moving and rubbing against each other, the fusion surgery eliminates this problem. All surgeries carry risks of infection, pain immediately following the surgery, and other life-threatening conditions.

Judith Melnyk
Nursing Specialist

Joint replacement surgeries are used to treat osteoarthritis. These total joint procedures can begin from ankles, to knees, to hips. On occasion toes and fingers can be included. All depends on the chronic pain to each joint.

Joint replacement surgery for osteoarthritis is one of the most commonly performed orthopedic procedures in the world.

Joint replacement surgery for osteoarthritis is surgery to replace worn-out cartilage and bone with metal and plastic implants. When arthritis reaches its final stages, the cartilage lining the joint has worn away. The previously smooth surface of the joint is now irregular, rough, raw and painful.

For severe cases of osteoarthritis, it may be necessary to explore surgical options. If you have severe osteoarthritis that hasn't responded to other therapies, your doctor may suggest surgery to maintain your ability to remain active. Joint replacement is the most common surgery for osteoarthritis. Some research shows that arthroscopic surgery is rarely helpful in treating osteoarthritis, so it is not often recommended.

Having arthritis in the knee limits the potential benefit of doing arthroscopic surgery for meniscal tears. Joint replacement surgery is best used when there is advanced arthritis on the x-ray (i.e., "bone touching bone"). There are patients who are somewhere between these two places. The best way to proceed is best determined on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration age, health, weight, exam findings and other information. Other treatments may include injections, therapy and bracing. I would encourage a meeting with an orthopedic surgeon to discuss further.

Joint replacement surgery can be used to correct joint deformity, to reconstruct a diseased joint or to completely replace a diseased joint with a prosthetic device. Long-term data from knee and hip replacements indicate that a prosthetic joint will last an average of 10 to 15 years and should relieve your pain substantially. Moreover, thanks to improved materials, newer prostheses may last even longer. If you're considering hip or knee replacement, you should be committed to participating in weeks of physical therapy after surgery.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Joint replacement surgery for osteoarthritis is fairly common. Knees and hips are the joints most frequently replaced—more than 700,000 people a year in the United States get new hips or knees. Because the population is aging and also getting heavier, the number of people with osteoarthritis is growing by about a million a year. That means joint replacement surgery will become even more widespread in the future.

When all other ways to relieve pain and disability in a joint with osteoarthritis have been exhausted, joint replacement surgery may be the best option. Joint replacement surgery removes the damaged joint and replaces it with an artificial joint. Discuss joint replacement surgery with your orthopedic surgeon to see if this might a good choice for you.

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

In advanced cases of knee and hip osteoarthritis, total joint replacement can provide pain relief and restore joint function. Because artificial knee or hip joints still have a lifetime limited to 15 to 20 years, some younger patients may not be the best candidates for total knee or hip replacement.

Take the RealAge Test!

Dr. Mark Hammerberg, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

Joint replacement surgery for osteoarthritis is surgery to replace worn-out cartilage and bone with metal and plastic implants. When arthritis reaches its final stages, the cartilage lining the joint has worn away. The previously smooth surface of the joint is now irregular, rough, raw and painful.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Osteoarthritis can be a mild problem, one you might be able to live with and control with medication. But for some people, the joint pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis can become so severe that the pain never goes away and they can no longer lead an active life.

When that's the case, joint replacement surgery is often recommended by a doctor. Make no mistake, this surgery isn't for the faint-hearted: It requires a lot of hard work during the recovery period. Over time, however, people who receive new joints not only report being pain free, but also feel more independent and enjoy a better quality of life.

Continue Learning about Osteoarthritis Treatment

Ease Knee Osteoarthritis Pain With These Alternative Remedies
Ease Knee Osteoarthritis Pain With These Alternative Remedies
Don’t get sidelined by pain from knee osteoarthritis. Integrative medicine expert Robin Miller, MD, explains how Eastern therapies—including acupunctu...
Read More
Can joint replacement be done with minimally invasive surgery?
Dr. William A. Leone, MDDr. William A. Leone, MD
Every joint replacement surgery should be done using as minimally invasive a technique as possible, ...
More Answers
What are hyaluronan injections?
Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, MDDr. Darria Long Gillespie, MD
Hyaluronan, also called hyaluronic acid, is a protein found in the lubricating fluid that surrounds ...
More Answers
Is Your Back Pain Osteoarthritis?
Is Your Back Pain Osteoarthritis?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.