For lots of people with hip and knee pain, joint replacement gets them back on their feet and able to enjoy life. But hips and knees aren’t the only joints doctors can replace. Gustavo Armendariz, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with TOCA at Banner Health in Arizona, explained when you might choose to have joint replacement surgery, and which joints do best when they’re replaced.
“The gold standard for any joint replacement is whether it is better than the alternative surgery,” Dr. Armendariz said. Often, another surgical option for treating deteriorating joints is fusion. With joint fusion, the surgeon fuses the bones together, so they become one solid bone. The joint doesn’t move, so it doesn’t hurt.
When a joint is replaced, you don’t just want to relieve pain. You also want the new joint to feel like and function like a normal joint. For hips and knees, joint replacement is a better alternative than fusion. Hip replacement and knee replacement can give you the pain relief you want, and the range of motion to keep you moving. That’s why they’re so common.
Shoulders can often be replaced
Medical manufacturers have developed replacement for other joints, and surgeons are perfecting the techniques to insert them. Shoulders have become popular candidates for replacements. “Shoulder replacements have been done for some time. Because of recent advancements in implants, they have nearly reached the status of hip and knee replacement,” Dr. Armenariz said.
Ankles can do well with joint replacement
Another joint not far behind is ankle replacement. “This joint struggles mightily against the results of fusion, but recent advances in design and materials make it worth consideration for replacement,” Dr. Armenariz said. Ankle replacement gives you more range of motion than fusion.
As techniques and technologies improve, we’ll likely see replacements, rather than fusion, become options for more joints.
Fingers, toes, elbows, and wrists? Consider other treatments
For other joints, fusion is a better option. Dr. Armenariz said fingers, toes, elbows, and wrists are typically fused rather than replaced. That’s because for most people, fusion gives them a better outcome. In rare cases where someone has a crippling disease that affects a lot of joints, like rheumatoid arthritis, joint replacement might be an option.
What happens after joint replacement surgery
If you do choose to have a joint replaced, you’ll probably spend one to two days in the hospital, though in some cases you could go home the same day. You’ll need to keep weight off the new joint for a while and then move on to physical therapy to build your strength and range of motion. Most people see a lot of improvement in the first three months, and you’ll continue to heal for up to a year.
The bottom line
Joint replacement can be a good option to alleviate pain and maintain range of motion. But for some joints, it’s not the best option. If joint pain is slowing you down, talk to your doctor or an orthopedic surgeon. To find a Banner Health doctor, visit bannerhealth.com.
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