I Have Arthritis: Do I Need a Total Joint Replacement?

Osteoarthritis is a very common condition that affects the bones and joints of millions of Americans, especially older ones. An estimated 30 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, mainly affecting the knee joint, although shoulder and hip problems are also very common.

A common question our orthopedic specialists get asked is this: “Do I need a total joint replacement because of arthritis?”

The answer isn’t a simple yes or no. It really depends on your situation, condition, and circumstances. Not all osteoarthritis cases need a total joint replacement.

When Total Joint Replacements Are Necessary

When do you need this surgery?

Typically, surgery is required whenever the arthritis damages the joint to the point where the pain and immobility becomes too much to bear or manage. Your doctor can examine the joint and see the extent of the structural damage done to the joint and if it’s something an artificial joint can fix.

Generally, if you meet this criteria, you could be a candidate for total joint replacement surgery:

  • You have severe arthritis
  • You have serious pain
  • You can’t move as well as you need to – or can’t move that joint at all
  • You haven’t benefited from physical therapy or anti-inflammatory medication
  • You can’t tolerate the symptoms any longer and want a better quality of life
  • You are willing to rehab your joint after your surgery

Your doctor will give you a recommendation based on his or her diagnosis and examination, but people who meet the above criteria usually make for great candidates for total joint replacement surgery.

One caveat: the joint has to be healthy enough for the surgery. This sounds strange, considering we’re talking about unhealthy joints to begin with, but the joint has to be strong enough to bear the artificial components. If you’ve had several infections or several surgeries that have severely damaged the joint, the remainder of the joint may not be able to handle the new components.

What Total Joint Replacement Surgery Does

The goal of this type of surgery is to remove your natural joint, whether it’s a hip, shoulder, or knee, and replace it with an artificial one. We also may modify the contact surface – i.e. where the joint makes contact with the socket or another piece of bone – so that there is less friction and pressure on these surfaces.

The specific procedures and components used are different for the joints. Hip replacements are functionally different from knee replacements, and will involve different processes.

Next Steps to Fix Your Osteoarthritis

If you have arthritis, you should speak to your primary care physician about treatment options. He or she may discuss orthopedic surgery with you and refer you to an orthopedic surgeon, who can walk you through total joint replacement surgery and see if it’s a good option for you.

If the surgery goes well, and you dedicate yourself to rehab, you can regain your quality of life and do what you want to do with your body once again.