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Is total joint replacement the best option for arthritis?

Osteoarthritis is debilitating. When arthritis starts to affect several joints, one potential treatment option to explore is replacing the damaged joint with a new, artificial one. This may eliminate the pain associated with arthritis, as well as restore function to joint. Hip, knee, and shoulder joint replacement are some of the more common surgeries recommended when dealing with arthritis.

This degenerative condition creates damage in the surfaces of the joint where they make contact with each other. In the shoulder, this is the head of the humerus and portion of the scapula. In the knee, it involves the ends of the femur and tibia and the patella. In the hip, the affected areas are the head of the femur and the socket in the pelvic bones in which it rests.

A total joint replacement for arthritis involves replacing the damaged joint surfaces with artificial components. Shoulder and hip replacements, these consists of a ball with a stem as well as a socket. For knee replacements, the artificial components are specially-shaped metal plates which replace the degraded cartilage covering the ends of the bone, along a with a medical-grand plastic disc that replaces the thick pad of cartilage cushioning the joint.

If the conservative treatment or if the damage to the cartilage or bone is beyond repair, remember that it is known that joint replacement is proven to be safer and highly effective and it is still often the best option.

A surgery like this can relieve the pain and improve the joint’s function, but there’s always potential risks and complications with surgery. Joint replacements carry the same dangers as the other major surgeries, like a chance of infections or blood clots. The people who are most at risk for these problems are the ones who suffer from heart diseases, diabetes (that are not controlled) or with a weak immune system. It is important, that you, as a surgeon, prescribe some antibiotics and blood thinners to try to prevent some complications.

The new joints may not work as well as thought. It might feel weak or stiff, especially when we talk about the knees. It is important to stick carefully to the rehab schedule of exercise, rest, and medicines.

Less common, but as a possibility, the implant can become loose or get dislocated. Also, we must warn the patients that the joint can wear out after about 20 years – a new surgery might be down the road.

If your patient’s arthritis is advanced, joint replacement may be an option. The success of a joint replacement surgery depends on the health of the rest of the joint. If the joint has suffered several infections, or if it has already undergone several surgeries, it may not be healthy enough to withstand a joint replacement. In addition, if the joint’s anatomy is abnormal or if it has a muscular deficiency in the area, it may simply not be strong enough to support the artificial joint.

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