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It’s Not Just Hips and Knees—Other Joints That Can Be Replaced

If you have joint pain, you know how much it can interfere with your life. Everyday activities can be difficult, and the pain can even wake you up at night. You might find yourself skipping activities you enjoy because you know how unpleasant the pain will make them.

You might think that you can't get a joint replacement if the pain isn’t in your hip or knee. Those are the joints people have replaced most often. But lots of other joints in the body can be replaced, too. 

“Joints in the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand, spine, foot and ankle can all be replaced,” said Kelly Scott, MD, a hand and orthopedic surgeon with Banner Health. “Hip and knee replacements have a longer history, but other joint replacements are becoming more and more common."

With joint replacement surgery (arthroplasty), a surgeon removes and replaces a damaged joint with an implant made of metal, plastic and/or ceramics. With this artificial joint, most people have a lot less pain and can use the joint more easily. 

“The most common reasons to need a joint replacement are end-stage arthritis due to wear-and-tear and post-traumatic arthritis,” Dr. Scott said. 

Other types of joint replacement 

If you have pain in one of these joints and treatments aren’t helping, talk to your health care provider about the pros and cons of these types of joint replacement surgery:


Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint where your upper arm connects to your shoulder blade and collarbone. Shoulder pain can make it hard to do everyday activities like showering and putting on a shirt. 

You may want to consider a shoulder replacement if you have severe osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, a traumatic injury or a rotator cuff tear.

Shoulder replacements have been done for some time and advancements in implants make them nearly as effective as hip and knee replacements.   


Your elbow joint consists of three bones, the humerus, radius and ulna, that create a hinge so you can bend your arm. Elbow pain can make it hard for you to lift, grip or bend your arm, so you may struggle to get dressed, cook or work with tools. 

You may want to consider elbow replacement if you have severe arthritis, traumatic injuries or degenerative conditions. However, with an elbow replacement, you’re limited to lifting five to 10 pounds or less.


Your ankle joint, made up of three bones, supports your weight and helps you stand, walk, run and move your foot into different positions. It can be hard to get around if you have ankle pain, swelling or instability.

You may want to consider ankle replacement if you have severe ankle arthritis, post-traumatic arthritis or previous ankle surgeries that haven’t solved your problem. 

Like shoulder replacements, advances in design and materials are making ankle replacement more common.

Fingers and thumbs

The joints where your fingers meet your hand (metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joints), the joints in the middle of your finger (proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joints) and the joint at the base of your thumb (carpometacarpal (CMC) joint) help you grip, grasp and use your hand. Pain, stiffness and deformity can make it hard to open a jar, type or use cutlery or tools. 

You may want to consider finger or thumb joint replacement if you have severe osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or other degenerative conditions.


The eight bones in your wrist joint help your hand move in multiple directions. Wrist pain, weakness and range of motion issues can make it hard to type, write and hold objects. 

You may want to consider a wrist replacement if you have advanced wrist arthritis, a traumatic injury or wrist surgery in the past that wasn’t effective.


Your spine is made up of 33 vertebrae stacked on top of each other, with discs between them that cushion them so you can move your back without rubbing the vertebrae together. When discs get diseased, you can have back pain. Certain discs in your lower back can be replaced.

You may want to consider a disc replacement if your back pain comes from one or two discs in your lower spine, you don’t want to have fusion surgery and you meet other requirements.

Should I wait as long as possible before having a joint replacement?

Not necessarily. “It’s a tricky question. It depends on the patient and the reason for joint replacement,” Dr. Scott said.

It used to be customary to recommend delaying joint surgery until age 65 or until the pain was unbearable. That’s because before about 2000, the plastic parts in an artificial joint would last about 10 to 15 years. So waiting reduced the odds that you would need the same joint replaced again in your lifetime. 

However, the plastic components in today’s implants are expected to last up to 30 years. And it may be possible to swap out the plastic in a simple procedure if it does wear out, rather than replacing the whole joint again. Therefore, there’s less need to live with the pain and discomfort that can reduce your mobility and impact your physical and mental health.

Most people who have joint replacements today are under the age of 65. While you don’t have to wait until a certain age or pain level, it’s a good idea to try nonsurgical options such as bracing, physical therapy and pain management before having a joint replacement. 

Your health care providers can evaluate your joint pain, recommend treatment options and discuss the pros and cons of joint replacement surgery.

What about fusion?

Fusion is a technique where surgeons fuse the bones together so they become one solid bone. The joint doesn’t move, so it doesn’t hurt. For some joints, such as fingers, toes, elbows and wrists, fusion might be a better option than joint replacement even though you don’t get improvements in function. Your health care provider can talk to you about the pros and cons of fusion and joint replacement.

The bottom line

Joint replacement can be a good option to treat pain and improve mobility and function in lots of joints, not just the hip and knee. If pain is slowing you down, connect with an expert at Banner Health to talk through your nonsurgical and surgical treatment options. 

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