WHAT IS ARTHROPLASTY?
Arthroplasty is the medical term that describes partial or complete joint replacements. In some cases, the procedure involves the resurfacing of a damaged joint structure. For some patients, it is necessary to replace the natural structure with an artificial joint (prosthesis).
It is believed that at least half a million arthroplasty procedures are currently performed in our country. Most of these procedures are performed on the knee and hip. However, arthroplasty may also be done to repair damage to a shoulder, elbow, ankle, or finger.
WHEN IS ARTHROPLASTY NEEDED?
Joint replacement may be needed when a joint has been degraded by osteoarthritis. A joint may become arthritic as a result of a previous injury or due to wear and tear. Osteoarthritis is a condition in which the cartilage in a joint gradually breaks down. The thinning and fraying of cartilage can close the space between two bones that meet in the joint space, resulting in friction and deterioration of the bone. Arthroplasty is considered a last resort, planned when conservative therapies like medication and physical therapy no longer provide sufficient relief and mobility.
ARE THERE ANY RISKS?
Like all surgical procedures, arthroplasty carries risks such as adverse reactions to anesthesia, infection, bleeding, and blood clots. A comprehensive consultation and examination are conducted to determine each patient’s risks based on their general health. Those who are immune-compromised, diabetic, or have heart problems tend to have higher risks for surgical complications. A surgeon can navigate these risks with various techniques and medications, such as blood thinners or antibiotics.
Nerve injury is a risk associated with surgery, though this is rare. After arthroplasty, there is a risk that the new joint may feel stiff or weak. This risk can be decreased by participating in the recommended rehabilitation following surgery.
WHAT TO EXPECT DURING ARTHROPLASTY SURGERY
Arthroplasty surgery is usually performed as an inpatient procedure. Patients may be in the hospital for a few days following their joint replacement.
The surgical procedure can take up to a few hours. Most arthroplasties are now performed using minimally invasive techniques. This shortens the length of incisions in most cases. The procedure involves either repairing or replacing the damaged part of the joint. For example, some arthroplasties involve replacing ball-and-socket structures with a biocompatible prosthesis. Once the joint has been repaired, the incision is closed with surgical staples or stitches. A bandage is placed over the incisions and the patient is moved to a recovery area where they are observed for a time.
WHAT IS RECOVERY LIKE?
While still in the hospital, patients are seen by a physical therapist who will discuss their rehabilitation plan. Prescription medication controls comfort so well that patients can expect to be up and moving right away after their procedure. A walker, cane, or crutches prevents too much stress being placed on the repaired joint. At discharge, patients receive detailed post-operative instructions that outline how to care for their incisions.
Physical therapy may begin a day or two after discharge, if not while the patient is still in the hospital. The prescribed rehabilitation program helps patients resume normal activity and may continue for several weeks. Improvements in strength, flexibility, mobility, and comfort occur each week that the patient continues to heal. A follow-up visit is usually scheduled for six to twelve weeks, or both, after surgery. At these visits, the surgeon can assess the progress that has been made and clear the patient for various activities.
IS ARTHROPLASTY COVERED BY INSURANCE?
Each insurance provider may have specific qualifications for patients needing arthroplasty. When deemed medically necessary, covering is typically available for this procedure. Patients are advised to contact their insurance carrier directly for specific information related to their plan.