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What is Joint Replacement?

Joint replacement, sometimes also called arthroplasty, is an option when a joint becomes severely damaged by disease or injury. The damaged cartilage of the joint is surgically removed, the ends of the bones in the joint are resurfaced, and a prosthetic is installed. Most prosthetic joints are made of a metal piece that fits into a plastic sleeve so that they glide smoothly. A joint replacement increases stability in the damaged area and decreases pain. The hip and knee are the two joints most commonly replaced, but joint replacement can also be performed on the ankle, shoulder, elbow and even fingers.

Although joint replacement is one of the safest and most reliable medical procedures available, it is still a major surgical procedure. All surgical procedures carry risks, such as infection or blood clots. For this reason, doctors try to help their patients avoid surgery for as long as they can. Taking arthritis medications, losing weight, avoiding high impact sports such as running, taking supplements such as glucosamine or chondroitin, or having joint injections may allow a patient to enjoy life without the need for surgery.

After having joint replacement surgery, expect some pain the first few days as you recover. Physical therapy is an important part of recovery, and it can decrease complications and increase your future mobility. As soon as possible, returning to low impact sports such as swimming, walking or biking can stretch and heal your new joint. A prosthetic joint can last 15 - 20 years and cannot be further damaged by degenerative diseases such as arthritis, so once it is done you should be pain-free for many years.