Joint replacement surgery is a procedure in which an orthopedic surgeon removes part or all of a diseased or damaged joint – most commonly the knee or hip – and inserts a prosthetic as replacement. The goals of this procedure are to reduce chronic pain and improve mobility in patients, goals that these procedures achieve in the majority of cases. So why do people need these procedures? While there are many conditions that can damage joints and create a need for joint replacement, there are some that are more common than others. Among those are these 3 conditions that often lead to joint replacement:
Known as the wear-and-tear form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common cause of knee replacement procedures and is at the root of the damage that makes many hip replacements necessary as well. This degenerative joint disease is the most common chronic condition of the joints, affecting about 27 million Americans. It occurs as a result of gradual damage to the cartilage that cushions joints, causing swelling, pain, stiffness, and reduced joint function. In its advanced stages cartilage can be worn away in some areas, allowing bones to rub against each other, which leads to more intense pain and often disability.
Additionally, as the joint gradually deteriorates, bits of cartilage and bone can chip off and float about in the joint, leading to more intense symptoms. It is in these final stages of osteoarthritis, when mobility and quality of life are severely affected, that joint replacement surgery is generally recommended.
An autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis is a form of inflammatory arthritis in which the body's immune system attacks the joints. The attack by immune cells causes inflammation in tissues that line the inside of joints, causing it to thicken and trigger swelling and pain around affected joints. Over time this can cause degeneration of the joint cartilage, leading to joint instability, reduced joint function, and joint deformity. This stage of the disease can be debilitating, with intense pain, swelling, stiffness, and mobility issues that severely impair quality of life – circumstances that often lead doctors to suggest joint replacement as the most effective means of relief. The most common joints replaced in rheumatoid arthritis sufferers are knees and hips, but a significant number have other joints, such as shoulders, ankles, wrists, and elbows replaced.
Commonly referred to as brittle bone disease, osteoporosis is a progressive disease that gradually causes bones to lose strength and density, becoming weak and fragile. As osteoporosis sufferers lose bone, risk of bone fractures rises. Called fragility fractures, these injuries can occur with very minor bumps or falls – incidents that do not exert enough pressure to break strong, healthy bones. Among the most common areas of the body that these fractures occur is the hip, and repairing the damage often requires hip replacement.
Other conditions that can lead to joint replacement surgery include traumatic arthritis, which generally develops in response to previous, severe injuries to joints, acute or overuse joint injuries, and joint infections, among others. For patients who have suffered debilitating joint damage or deterioration due to one of these conditions, joint replacement surgery can bring much needed relief. However, it is important to note that these are serious surgeries and that relief will not be immediate. After joints are replaced, healing and recovery takes time, and learning to use that new joint and regaining full mobility will take intensive rehabilitation therapy. Even with those challenges, most patients who undergo these procedures are quite satisfied with the results – less pain, greater mobility, and improved quality of life.