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Joint Replacement

Overview :

Joint replacements are performed under general or regional anesthesia in a hospital by an orthopedic surgeon. Some medical centers specialize in joint replacement, and these centers generally have a higher success rate than less specialized facilities. The specific techniques of joint replacement vary depending on the joint involved.

Hip Replacement

The surgeon makes an incision along the top of the thigh bone (femur) and pulls the thigh bone away from the socket of the hip bone (the acetabulum). An artificial socket made of metal coated with polyethylene (plastic) to reduce friction is inserted in the hip. The top of the thigh bone is cut, and a piece of artificial thigh made of metal is fitted into the lower thigh bone on one end and the new socket on the other.

The artificial hip can either be held in place by a synthetic cement or by natural bone in-growth. The cement is an acrylic polymer. It assures good locking of the prosthesis to the remaining bone. However, bubbles left in the cement after it cures may act as weak spots, causing the development of cracks. This promotes loosening of the prosthesis later in life. If additional surgery is needed, all the cement must be removed before surgery can be performed.

An artificial hip fixed by natural bone in-growth requires more precise surgical techniques to assure maximum contact between the remaining natural bone and the prosthesis. The prosthesis is made so that it contains small pores that encourage the natural bone to grow into it. Growth begins 6 to 12 weeks after surgery. The short term outcome with non-cemented hips is less satisfactory, with patients reporting more thigh pain, but the long term outlook is better, with fewer cases of hip loosening in non-cemented hips. The trend is to use the non-cemented technique. Hospital stays last from four to eight days.

Knee Replacement

The doctor puts a tourniquet above the knee, then makes a cut to expose the knee joint. The ligaments surrounding the knee are loosened, then the shin bone and thigh bone are cut and the knee removed. The artificial knee is then cemented into place on the remaining stubs of those bones. The excess cement is removed, and the knee is closed. Hospital stays range from three to six days.

In both types of surgery, preventing infection is very important. Antibiotics are given intravenously and continued in pill form after the surgery. Fluid and blood loss can be great, and sometimes blood transfusions are needed.

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