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Arthroplasty is performed under general (affecting the entire body) or regional (numbing a specific area of the body, such as spinal block) anesthesia in a hospital, by an orthopedic surgeon. Although many hospitals and medical centers perform common types of joint surgery, orthopedic hospitals that specialize in joint surgery tend to have higher success rates than less specialized centers.

In joint resection, the surgeon makes an incision at the joint, then carefully removes the minimum amount of bone necessary to allow free motion. The more bone that remains, the more stable the joint. Ligament attachments are preserved as much as possible. In interpositional reconstruction, both bones of the joint are reshaped, and a disk of material is placed between the bones to prevent their rubbing together. Length of hospital stay depends on the joint affected; in the absence of complications, a typical stay is only a few days.


Significant disabling pain, deformity, and reduced quality of life are the primary indications for arthroscopic procedures. Patients at this stage of discomfort and disability will most likely have already been diagnosed with a form of arthritis. Pain and stiffness on weight-bearing joints are the major symptoms that patients report, though some people experience night pain as well. Other symptoms may include stiffness, swelling, and locking of the joint; and even the joint giving way, particularly when the knees or hips are affected. To determine the extent of disabling, the referring physician and/or the surgeon will likely ask about walking distance, sporting ability, the need for walking aids, and the ability to perform self-care tasks such as dressing and bathing. Besides evaluation of the joint itself and level of mobility, the clinical examination will include evaluation of the patient's general health, the condition of the ligaments and muscles around the affected joint, and also assessment of the patient's mental outlook and social circumstances to help develop the most effective postoperative rehabilitation plan.

Diagnostic testing will typically include:

  • x rays of the affected joint (and other joints as well)to determine loss of joint space and to differentiate between OA and RA
  • imaging studies, such as computed tomography (Cat scans), magnetic resonance (MRI), and bone densitometry to assess bone loss or bone infection
  • cardiac tests, such as electrocardiogram, to evaluate the heart and circulatory system
  • blood tests to rule out infection and possibly to confirm arthritis

Prior to arthroplasty, standard preoperative blood and urine tests are performed to rule out such conditions as anemia and infection. If a patient has a history of bleeding, the surgeon may ask that clotting tests be performed. The patient will meet with the anesthesiologist to discuss any special conditions that may affect the administration of anesthesia. Surgery will not be performed if infection is present anywhere in the body or if the patient has certain heart or lung diseases. Smokers will be asked to stop smoking. Weight loss may also be recommended for overweight patients. If surgery involves deep tissue and muscle, such as total hip arthroplasty, the surgeon may order units of blood to be prepared in case transfusion is needed to replace blood lost during the surgery. Healthy patients may be asked to donate their own blood, which will be returned to them at the time of surgery (autologous transfusion). Certain pain medications may have to be discontinued in the weeks just prior to surgery.