Rochester Hand Center



Joint Replacement Surgery

What is arthritis?

In a normal joint, bones have a smooth, glistening surface made of a substance called articular cartilage on their ends that allows one bone to glide easily against another. Joints are lubricated by a thin layer of fluid (synovial fluid) that acts like oil in an engine to keep moving parts gliding smoothly. When the articular cartilage wears out or is damaged or the joint fluid is abnormal, problems develop and joints often become stiff and painful – that’s arthritis. There are many types of arthritis, but the basic problem is the same in all types: the joint surfaces are worn out or not moving properly. In some cases, it may be possible to treat arthritic joints surgically, including “joint replacement” procedures.

What does it mean to have a “joint replacement” or an “artificial joint”?

The abnormal bone and lining structures of the involved joint are removed surgically, and new parts are inserted in their places. These new parts may be made of special metal or plastic (certain forms of polyethylene) or specific kinds of carbon-coated implants. The new parts allow the joints to move again with little or no pain.

Figure 1: Joint replacement implants

What kind of joints can be replaced?

When should joint replacement surgery NOT be done?

Artificial joints should not be done if you have:

What are some alternative procedures besides joint replacement surgery for arthritis?

What are the benefits of joint replacement surgery?

Artificial joints may help:

What are the risks of joint replacement surgery?

Is therapy needed after surgery?

Yes, therapy supervised by a trained hand therapist is almost always required after any joint replacement surgery, usually for several months. Special splints are generally used depending on which joint was replaced and how the surgery was done (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Common types of splints used for post-op hand therapy

How can you ensure the best results after joint replacement surgery?

© 2006 American Society for Surgery of the Hand