It becomes necessary on occasion to replace a joint that has become damaged or arthritic with a plastic, ceramic or metal substitute called a “prosthesis.” Joints, of course, describe the place where two bones meet, and often function as hinges (elbow, knee) or as “ball and socket” fittings (shoulder). The prosthesis works to duplicate the function of a joint that was performing properly before becoming problematic. Most total joint replacement surgeries are usually performed on knees and hips, but may occasionally be used when problems arise with the wrist, elbow, shoulder or ankle.
Joint replacement surgery is usually considered because the patient is experiencing a great deal of pain – pain often caused by damage to the cartilage that lies at the ends of bones and prevents them from grinding one another. Such damage is usually the result of a fracture or arthritis. Joint replacement surgery is the usual “next step” when other nonsurgical treatments – physical therapy, medication, etc. – have failed to alleviate the pain.
Where surgery is indicated, the procedure usually takes a few hours. Occasionally complications may ensue in the form of blood clots, infections, nerve injuries and problems with the prosthesis itself, but most of these complications can be treated without problem.