For arthritis that causes severe pain and doesn’t respond well to medication or physical therapy, joint surgery may be necessary (via WebMD). But such procedures are often a last resort, since they’re invasive and carry their own risks. For those with osteoarthritis, arthroscopy is one option. In this procedure, a surgeon inserts a thin, flexible scope into the joint via a small incision. Through the scope, the surgeon can smooth rough bone edges and remove damaged cartilage or bone fragments. While the procedure has a quick recovery time, its usefulness for osteoarthritis is limited. In a total joint replacement (arthroplasty), the surgeon replaces the arthritic joint with an artificial metal or plastic one. While this procedure can greatly reduce pain and improve quality of life, it requires significant recovery time and the artificial joint will eventually wear out and need to be replaced with another. Joint fusion involves the use of pins, screws, plates, or rods to join two or more bones together. Although joint fusion can dramatically reduce pain, it reduces mobility and may cause osteoarthritis to spread to other joints as they try to overcompensate for the lack of mobility in the fused joint. These procedures are also options for those with other types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis (via WebMD).
Knees and hips are the joints most likely to be replaced. According to data reported on by CNN in 2018, approximately 700,000 total knee replacements and 400,000 total hip replacements are performed in the United States each year. Thousands more surgeries are performed to replace ankles, wrists, shoulders and elbows.