Patient Education


Understanding Total Joint Replacement

Total joint replacement is usually reserved for patients who have severe arthritic conditions. Most patients who have artificial hip, knee, or shoulder joints are over 55 years of age, but the operation is being performed in greater numbers on younger patients thanks to new advances in artificial joint technology.

Circumstances vary, but generally patients are considered for total joint replacement if:

  • Functional limitations restrict not only work and recreation, but also the ordinary activities of daily living
  • Pain is not relieved by more conservative methods or treatment, such as those described above, by the use of a cane, and by restricting activities
  • Stiffness in the joint is significant
  • X-rays show advanced arthritis or other problems

What Is Total Joint Replacement?

Total joint replacement is a surgical procedure in which certain parts of an arthritic or damaged joint, such as a hip, knee, or shoulder joint, are removed and replaced with a plastic or metal device called a prosthesis. The prosthesis is designed to enable the artificial joint to move just like a normal, healthy joint.

Hip replacement involves replacing the femur (head of the thighbone) and the acetabulum (hip socket). Typically, the artificial ball with its stem is made of a strong metal, and the artificial socket is made of polyethylene (a durable, wear-resistant plastic).

In total knee replacement, the artificial joint is composed of metal and polyethylene to replace the diseased joint. The prosthesis is anchored into place with bone cement or is covered with an advanced material that allows bone tissue to grow into it.

In a total shoulder replacement, the round end of your arm bone will be replaced with an artificial stem that has a rounded metal head. The socket part of your shoulder blade will be replaced with a smooth plastic shell (lining) that will be held in place with a special cement

Total joint replacements of the hip, knee, and shoulder have been performed since the 1960s. Today, these procedures have been found to result in significant restoration of function and reduction of pain in 90% to 95% of patients. While the expected life of conventional joint replacements is difficult to estimate, it is not unlimited. Today's patients can look forward to potentially benefiting from new advances that may increase the lifetime of hip and knee prostheses.

Recent Advances in Total Joint Replacement

Nearly half a million joint replacements are performed each year in the U.S. using conventional metal/plastic prostheses. As successful as most of these procedures are, over the years, the artificial joints can become loose and unstable, requiring a revision (repeat) surgery.

These issues - together with the fact that increasing numbers of younger and more active patients are receiving total joint replacements, and older patients are living longer - have challenged the orthopedic industry to try to extend the life cycle of total joint replacements.

Recent improvements in surgical techniques and instrumentation will help to further the success of your treatment. The availability of advanced materials, such as titanium and ceramic prostheses and new plastic joint liners, provide orthopedic surgeons with options that may help to increase the longevity of the prosthesis.

To learn more, contact your treating physician or orthopedic surgeon.