Arthritis Surgery

In general, surgery may be recommended to arthritis patients to assess the health of the joint or to improve a severely damaged joint. There are several types of joint surgeries, including the following:

  • Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgery that may be used to assess and correct problem joints. It involves inserting a tiny camera through a small incision into the joint. This procedure can provide a clear picture of the condition of the joint, and may also allow the surgeon to treat the underlying cause of the joint pain, such as damaged cartilage or inflamed synovial tissue. (The synovium is a type of tissue within the joint. When arthroscopy is used to remove damaged synovial tissue, it is called a synovectomy.)
  • Arthroplasty is a general term that refers to any surgery that involves the rebuilding of the joint(s) by the removal of damaged bone and joint tissue with the replacement by synthetic joints and/or bones.
  • Total joint replacement is a type of arthroplasty. It involves replacing damaged joint and/or bone with metal, ceramic, or plastic joints and/or bone. Doctors usually recommend this surgery (e.g., hip replacement) only when arthritis pain no longer responds to medication and prevents a patient from normal activities or from taking care of themselves, such as when the pain interferes with sleep.
  • Arthrodesis involves fusing the two bones in a joint together. Although the joint loses all flexibility, following this procedure, it can bear weight, become more stable, and be pain free.
  • Osteotomy may be recommended to correct joints that have become improperly aligned. This surgery may be performed to reposition bone and redistribute weight across a joint.
  • Resection surgery may be recommended when a patient experiences pain from the rubbing of two bones against one another. This surgery involves removing a small section of bone to create space within the joint, thus eliminating the scraping of the bones.
  • Revision joint surgery refers to the replacement of an artificial joint when it has become worn. Today, the average joint replacement lasts between 15 and 20 years. However, joint replacements may also need revision surgery from overly strenuous use, or, in rare cases, because of infection.

Although complications from joint surgery are relatively rare, the most common ones are blood clots and infection. To avoid these complications, antibiotics and blood thinners may be prescribed before and after surgery.

Successful joint surgery also depends on patients following the post-surgery recommendations of their surgeon, doctor, and physical therapist. In general, patients do best when they commit to eating a healthy diet, exercising properly, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 May 2006

Last Modified: 01 Sep 2015