Understanding joint replacement

Unlike many surgical procedures, getting a new joint is often a matter of choice: Joint replacement can mean an end to many years of discomfort and pain, but the “when,” “why” and “who” are up to you.

To understand more about what’s involved in a joint replacement procedure, please review these questions and answers – and review one of our Joint Replacement Guidebooks or ask your doctor for more information.

What is the procedure?

  • Knee replacement involves using a metal and plastic covering to replace cartilage that has worn away over the years.
  • Hip and shoulder replacement procedures are similar. The worn head of the thigh or humerus bone is replaced with a metal ball mounted on a stem, and a metal cup and plastic insert are implanted in the hip or shoulder socket. (Replacement hip joints may also be ceramic.) The ball fits into the cup, and the two pieces glide together, creating the new joint.

Should I have it done?

If you answer “yes” to any or all of the following questions, joint replacement may be for you:

  • Do you have a painful, disabling joint disease, possibly the result of severe arthritis?
  • Have you had unsatisfactory results from less invasive procedures like arthrodesis or arthroscopy?
  • Have you had previous surgeries that didn’t relieve your symptoms?

How long is my hospital stay?
  • Most patients are discharged from the hospital one or two days after shoulder replacement, or two to three days following a replaced knee or hip.
  • Depending on various factors, you may need to go to a rehabilitation center or a nursing home after your hospital stay.

How long will my recovery take?

  • For a knee or hip replacement, you will likely use a walker for about four weeks after the operation, and return in driving a car in two to four weeks. After about three months of gradually increased activity, you should be able to return to activities like golf, doubles tennis or bowling.
  • After a shoulder replacement procedure you should be able to return to driving a car in four weeks, and pick up other activities gradually, based on your surgeon’s recommendation.
Will I need a blood transfusion?
  • Most hip and shoulder replacement patients do not require transfusions after surgery.
  • If you’re getting a new knee, a transfusion after surgery is usually not necessary. When both knees are being replaced at the same time, the likelihood increases.