What to Ask Before Joint Replacement Surgery

Osteoarthritic joint replacement questions for your surgeon

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

Osteoarthritis is sometimes called the "wear-and-tear" arthritis because it occurs when joints and joint tissues wear down over time. While osteoarthritis can damage any joint in the body, it often affects the knees and hips.

If your hip or knee has become severely damaged by osteoarthritis, you may find it hard to do day-to-day activities like walking or climbing stairs. You might even find it hurts to sit or lie down.

In these cases of severe joint damage from osteoarthritis, a doctor may recommend total joint replacement surgery. For many patients, joint replacement surgery improves mobility and relieves pain.

If you are thinking about joint replacement surgery, or have already decided to go through with the procedure, it is important to talk to your doctor and surgeon. This article offers some questions to ask before undergoing joint replacement surgery.

Is total joint replacement surgery right for me?

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, joint replacement surgery is successful in more than 9 out of 10 people. Still, surgery may not be the best choice for everyone. You and your doctor may want to explore other treatment options - such as physical therapy, drug treatment or partial joint replacement.

Total joint replacement surgery is recommended to osteoarthritis patients based on their level of pain and disability. Even though most people undergo joint replacement between age 50 and 80, there are no definite age restrictions for joint replacement. In addition, there are no definite weight restrictions.

Every candidate for joint replacement surgery is assessed individually by a surgeon. The procedure has been carried out successfully in patients of all ages.

What are the risks if I don't get joint replacement?

Osteoarthritis is a disease that worsens over time. As such, putting surgery on hold may mean that your joints become even more damaged. However, it's important to make sure surgery will help. If you find that other therapies are working for you, there may be no need for surgery.

What are the risks if I do get joint replacement?

While total joint replacement surgery is successful in most people, complications can still occur. Fortunately, many of these complications are treatable.

Possible complications of joint replacement surgery include:

  • infection
  • blood clots
  • loosening of the joint replacement device (prosthesis) - which may cause pain or require fixing
  • dislocation of the prosthesis - a complication that may be fixed without surgery or with a brace
  • wear on the prosthesis
  • breaking of the prosthesis - a rare complication that requires surgery
  • nerve injury

Can I get minimally invasive surgery?

Minimally invasive joint replacement can do all that a total joint replacement does, but with a smaller opening - which can mean a shorter hospital stay, shorter recovery and smaller scar. However, some research has shown that minimally invasive joint replacement may boost the risk of complications.

What kind of prosthesis do you recommend?

The type of joint replacement device you get will depend on a few factors, particularly the joint you need replaced.

In patients with knee osteoarthritis, the damaged joint and joint tissue may be replaced with metal or plastic devices that are shaped to bring back movement and function.

In patients with an arthritic hip, the damaged ball (the end of the femur) may be replaced by a metal or ceramic ball attached to a metal or plastic stem.

Regardless of the materials used, joint replacements are made to allow your joint to move like a normal joint.

How do I prepare for total joint replacement?

Your surgeon is likely to offer some pre-surgery recommendations. You may need to:

  • get your blood drawn so that you can receive it during or after surgery if needed
  • stop taking certain drugs
  • start exercising to make recovery easier after surgery
  • make plans for a ride home from the hospital, home therapy and rehabilitation

What is the recovery process after surgery?

After your operation, you're not likely to be bedridden for too long. Your surgery may push you to use your new joint soon after surgery. In many cases, patients with a total hip or knee replacement are encouraged to stand and walk the day after surgery.

While most patients feel some point in their replaced joint and the nearby muscles, the pain usually goes away within a few weeks or months.

One of the keys to recovery is exercise. Through working with your surgeon and a physical therapist, you can come up with a physical activity plan that is right for you and your new joint.

After I recover, what activities can I do?

Be realistic: you may not be able to jump right into a heavy jogging schedule. Your surgeon may recommend avoiding such high-impact activities. Still, you are supposed to be able to use your new joint. Pay attention to the signs your body gives you. If you feel pain while doing a certain activity, tell your doctor.

How long will my joint replacement device last?

For most older patients, a joint replacement will last a decade or more. Younger patients, however, may eventually need a second joint replacement, as the causes of joint wear-and-tear may not have disappeared after surgery. 

Review Date: 
September 26, 2012