Arthroplasty is the medical term for the surgical repair of a joint using prosthetic materials. But there are other joint reconstruction options a doctor might also recommend, like fusion or arthroscopy.

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Joint reconstruction surgery is very common, especially in older adults. For example, doctors in the United States perform more than 1.2 million hip and knee replacements each year.

Doctors use many types of surgery to treat arthritis and injured joints. They usually only recommend joint surgery for people with severe joint damage or who don’t respond to more conservative options like rest or corticosteroid injections.

The type of surgery that’s best for you depends on factors such as:

  • your budget and insurance
  • your age
  • your level of physical activity
  • your overall health
  • your mobility and fitness goals

Read on to learn more about the different types of joint reconstruction surgeries and when they may recommend each type.

A doctor may consider joint repair surgery if you have debilitating pain from a condition or injury that affects your joints. Conditions that may require surgical joint repair include:

Hip and knee arthroplasty are among the most common surgeries to repair joints, usually due to advanced osteoarthritis. Arthroplasty is a group of surgeries that replace damaged parts of your joint with a prosthesis or realign them so that your bones move together better. You may also have arthroplasty on your:

  • shoulders
  • knuckles
  • wrists
  • ankles
  • elbows

Is arthroplasty the same thing as joint replacement?

Arthroplasty and joint replacement refer to the same procedures. Joint resurfacing, or partial arthroplasty, is a less invasive type of arthroplasty that involves replacing only one part of the joint.

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Joint replacement surgery can be partial or total. A total joint replacement involves removing the damaged part of your joint and replacing it with a prosthesis made of ceramics, metal, or plastic.

These implants are designed to last for a long time and replicate natural movement. Doctors often use them to treat osteoarthritis that hasn’t responded to other treatments.

Many types of total joint replacements have very high success rates and last for a long time. For example, a 2019 review found evidence that between 58% to 79% of hip replacements last 25 years.

Learn more about total hip replacement.

Learn more about total knee replacement.

Joint resurfacing is also known as partial joint replacement. It’s a less invasive type of arthroplasty that surgeons can perform through a smaller incision than joint replacement. During resurfacing, surgeons shave away diseased or damaged parts of your knee and implant durable, synthetic surfaces without replacing the knee entirely.

Like joint replacement, doctors often use resurfacing to treat advanced osteoarthritis in the hip or knee. For example, knee resurfacing is used to treat osteoarthritis confined to one of three compartments:

  • the inner part of your knee
  • the outer part of your knee
  • the space between your kneecap and thigh

Some of the advantages of knee resurfacing versus a total replacement include:

  • faster recovery
  • less pain after surgery
  • less blood loss
  • lower infection risk

Learn more about partial knee replacement.

Doctors can use arthroscopy to diagnose a joint injury or repair a problem. It refers to a minimally invasive type of surgery where a surgeon inserts a long, thin tube called an arthroscope into your joint.

The arthroscope contains a light and camera to allow doctors to see damaged tissue. Doctors can use a separate tool through another small incision to make a repair.

Doctors perform many types of surgery arthroscopically, including joint replacements. Some of the most common arthroscopic procedures include:

Osteotomy is a procedure where a bone is cut to realign and relieve stress on part of your joint. For example, osteotomy of the knee involves cutting a wedge of bone tissue from under your knee to realign the joint. Doctors use it to treat early stage osteoarthritis that has only caused damage on one side of your knee.

Spinal osteotomy is also a common procedure. It involves removing part of a vertebra to fix the alignment of your spine. Doctors use it to treat people with conditions such as severe ankylosing spondylitis or scoliosis.

Arthrodesis is also known as joint fusion. It involves permanently connecting two bones so you can no longer move the joint to limit severe arthritis pain. It limits your range of motion more than joint replacement but may be an option if you’re not a candidate for joint replacement or if joint replacement fails.

Surgeons can perform joint fusion on many different joints, such as your:

When to contact a doctor

You may want to ask your doctor about surgical joint repair if more conservative options haven’t been giving you relief.

Depending on which joint is affected, your doctor may first recommend:

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All surgeries come with a risk of complications. Some joint repair surgeries have lower complication rates than others. But doctors are more likely to perform some surgeries (like hip and knee replacements) on older adults, while others (like elbow replacements) are more likely with younger, fit athletes.

Possible serious complications of joint repair surgery include:

Minor complications may include stiffness, swelling, or paresthesia.

Joint repair surgeries are typically successful at reducing pain. Joint replacements can often help restore range of motion. But success rates vary based on:

  • affected joint
  • type of procedure
  • technique or approach
  • your age and overall health

Consider talking with your doctor about how these factors may influence your chances of success.

Even after a successful surgery, some people require revision surgery after several years. Revision surgery can correct issues with the original surgery or replace a prosthesis.

Doctors use many types of joint surgery to treat joint problems such as osteoarthritis or severe traumatic injuries. Your doctor may recommend surgical repair if conservative treatments are ineffective.

The type of surgery that’s best for you depends on your injury. Your doctor can discuss your options with you and help you decide which type of surgery is best.