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 Alison Suraci, 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. Suraci said there are several factors to consider when estimating how long your joint replacement should last. “The implants and techniques we’re using have improved, and the number usually quoted is about 15 years, but in my opinion that’s likely an underestimate,” she 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.
Your replaced joint could be failing from an infection and your doctor will always do bloodwork to investigate this possibility. If needed, your doctor may take some fluid from the joint to test it further.
What happens when your joint implant is replaced?
Replacing a joint implant is called joint replacement revision and it’s a more complicated procedure than the first surgery, Dr. Suraci 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,” she said. You might need bone grafts, cement or metal augments to compensate for bone deficiencies.
Revision surgeries are a more complex procedure when compared to your first joint replacement. So, it is expected you will need extra recovery and rehabilitation, with a period of healing, physical therapy, and a gradual return to activity. Your health care team will be there to support you, and your surgeon can walk through the recovery timeline with you when discussing your specific surgery.
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:
- Hip Preservation vs. Hip Replacement
- Is Anterior Total Hip Replacement Better Than Posterior?
- Are You Considering Shoulder Replacement Surgery?
Updates were made to this content on March 28, 2023.