Better Me

Your Joint Replacement Needs to Be Replaced. What Happens Next?

Maybe you had a knee replaced, and it’s starting to hurt when you go up or down stairs. Maybe it was your shoulder, and it bothers you when you take a book down from a high shelf. Or maybe your hip twinges when you get up from sitting. Maybe you have a joint replacement that hurts even when you aren’t doing anything. If any of this sounds familiar, there could be an underlying reason.

“Pain or discomfort could be a sign that your joint replacement is failing,” said Thomas Pazik, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Banner Health in Colorado. “Most of the time, your joint replacement will last and function well throughout your lifetime. But occasionally, they can loosen or wear out.”

Dr. Pazik said it’s hard to estimate how long your joint replacement should last. “The implants and techniques we’re using have improved, and the number we usually use is about 15 years, but in my opinion that’s probably an underestimate,” he said.

Your doctor can evaluate your joint implant

If you’re noticing pain in a joint where you have a replacement, talk to your doctor. Your doctor will most likely recommend x-rays and may also want you to have an MRI or CT scan. These imaging studies can give a closer look at the joint implant so your doctor can see if it has moved or is damaged, and plan for surgery to replace it if needed.

It’s unlikely that your joint will be failing because of infection—surgical techniques and antibiotics mean the risk of infection is very low, and most infections happen soon after the surgery, not years later. If infection is a possibility, your doctor may take some fluid from the joint to test it.

What happens when your joint implant is replaced?

Replacing a joint implant is called joint revision, and it’s a more complicated procedure than the first surgery, Dr. Pazik said. That’s because the primary joint replacement has to be removed first, and there could be bone loss around the implant.

“You need good, stable bone as a foundation for the revision surgery. If there’s bone loss, you have to build out that foundation,” he said. You might need bone grafts or metal augments to compensate for bone deficiencies.

But once the surgery is complete, your recovery should be similar to the recovery from your first joint replacement, with a period of healing, physical therapy, and a gradual return to activity.

The bottom line

Don’t let the fear that your joint replacement might not last prevent you from having it done. Most of the time, joint replacements last a lifetime, and they can get rid of your pain and get you back to the activities you like to do. And if your joint implant does need to be replaced, surgeons have the techniques and technologies to get you back on your feet and enjoying life again.

If you’re worried about pain in your replacement joint, talk to your doctor. To connect with a Banner Health physician, visit bannerhealth.com.

To learn more about joint health, read these articles:

Orthopedics Senior Health

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