Joint pain or movement limitations in shoulders, knees, and hips sometimes becomes more than just a temporary inconvenience. If non-surgical treatments like various therapeutic remedies, medications, and physical therapy exercises aren’t providing relief, or your discomfort is becoming progressively worse, you may be a candidate for joint replacement. About a million joint replacements are performed each year in the United States. Additionally, it’s a procedure that has become increasingly less invasive due to advances in technology.
Shoulder Joint Replacement
A normal functioning ball-and-socket shoulder joint has a greater range-of-motion that any other joint in the human body. If the joint becomes damaged or unstable, it may affect any of the three bones that make up each shoulder: the shoulder blade (scapula), collarbone (clavicle), and upper arm bone (humerus). When other treatments won’t successfully restore stability, joint replacement may be recommended.
During shoulder replacement surgery, damaged parts of the shoulder will be replaced with artificial parts. Each part, called a prosthesis, will be attached to supporting tissues to restore flexibility and allow normal movement of the joint. Shoulder joint replacement surgery may become necessary due to:
- Degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis)
- Post-traumatic arthritis related to a serious shoulder injury
- Changes in the shoulder joint due to long-term rotator cuff issues (rotator cuff tear arthropathy)
- Damage from severe fractures (bone breaks)
Hip Joint Replacement
Frequently performed because a hip joint has worn out due to a combination of continuous use and age-related degeneration, hip joint replacement often allows patients to move without pain. It may also become an option if a hip joint is damaged due to fractures or severe arthritis. Stability of the hip joint may be affected if the synovial membrane isn’t properly lubricating cartilage or if the hip’s ligaments (hip capsules) sufficiently connecting the femoral head to part of the pelvis bone (acetabulum).
The joint may also become compromised from an injury that reduces the flow of blood to the femoral head (avascular necrosis). While hip replacements are often performed on older adults, younger patients with childhood hip disease may need to have one or both hip joints replaced. Hip replacement surgery is performed by:
- Replacing the damaged femoral head with a metal stem
- Inserting an artificial ball to complete the joint
- Removing the damaged cartilage on the surface of the joint and holding it in place with screws and cement or replacing it with a metal socket
- Creating a smooth gliding surface with an artificial spacer
Knee Joint Replacement
Considered the most successful type of joint replacement surgery, knee joint replacement is performed more than half a million times each year in the U.S. If the thick ligaments that hold the femur and tibia together become weak or damaged, the knee joint itself may become unstable enough to warrant a “replacement.”
Also referred to as knee arthroplasty, knee joint replacement only involves the replacement of surface of the bones. Replacement may be necessary if the knee joint is damaged from chronic arthritis, age-related wear-and-tear, or a significant injury. It’s a procedure that involves:
- Removing damaged cartilage surfaces and part of the underlying bone
- Putting metal components into place to recreate the joint
- Resurfacing the kneecap (patella)
- Inserting a medical-grade plastic spacer
Recovery from Joint Replacement
There may be some discomfort after joint replacement while a patient gets used to the “new” joint. It usually goes away as muscles that support the joint become strong enough to offer more support. Various exercises will also be recommended to improve flexibility and restore normal range-of-motion.
Why Consider Shoulder, Knee, or Hip Replacement?
Partial and complete joint replacements can be performed on patients of all ages. It’s a procedure worth considering if you’re experiencing recurring or worsening pain for six months or more or severe mobility limitations due to joint damage.
How your shoulder, knee, or hip replacement surgery is performed will depend on the extent of the damage to the joint. Your overall health and odds of benefiting from the necessary follow-up rehabilitation and physical therapy will also be considered. If joint replacement is right for you, minimally invasive surgical techniques could shorten your recovery time. Well-healed patients are often able to resume all or most of their regular activities.