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As people live longer, it’s natural to wonder how long a hip or knee replacement will last. Will a revision eventually be necessary? It’s something every patient considering a joint replacement wants and needs to know.
There’s never a guarantee that your hip or knee replacement will last forever. And the likelihood of whether or not you outlive your replacement depends on several things, including your age when your joint was replaced. However, with improved artificial joint materials, better surgical techniques, and some lifestyle changes, the majority of patients who undergo joint replacement surgery are likely to be successful with implants that last longer than ever before.
What is hip or knee replacement surgery?
Hips and knees are both synovial joints, which means they have two cartilage-covered bones contained within a capsule and surrounded by synovial fluid. As you age, arthritis can cause the cartilage to wear, resulting in bone on bone friction which can be extremely painful. And as obesity rates continue to rise, so do arthritis cases. While nonsurgical treatments may help some patients get back to an active lifestyle with less pain, many people elect to have hip or knee replacement surgery.
There are different types of joint replacement surgery. For men and women who have hip pain worsening from arthritis, a total hip replacement involves replacing both the ball and socket of the joint with artificial parts. Less common is a partial hip replacement, which is most appropriate for elderly patients who have a femur fracture and need only the ball of the joint replaced.
The knee joint can also be replaced as a total or partial knee replacement, although the reasons why someone may choose one over the other are different from the hip procedure. When arthritis is contained to only one of three compartments of the knee, we can perform a partial knee replacement to swap out artificial parts for just the worn out region. During a total knee replacement, we replace everything. Both hip and knee replacements can be performed robotically using advanced technology to help with precise placement and positioning of the artificial parts.
The typical lifespan of a joint replacement.
Historically, patients were told their hip or knee replacement would last about 10-15 years before needing to be replaced during a revision surgery. That makes it sound as clear cut as having a set of tires changed, but unfortunately, a joint replacement is not quite that simple. And it’s difficult to predict how long an individual’s replacement will last.
You can expect about one percent of people who have hip or knee replacement surgery every year to wear out. In other words, imagine 100 patients have their hips replaced in 2022. Ten years from now, it’s reasonable to expect that ten of them would need a second surgery while 90 of them will not. And 20 years from now, it’s probable that 20 of them will need a second surgery and 80 of them will not.
Whether or not you need a second replacement will vary based on several factors, including your age when you had your first replacement. On average, the life expectancy in the United States is 80 for women and 74 years for men. The average patient age for a hip or knee replacement surgery is between 66 and 68, which means that it is reasonable to expect a joint replacement to last for the remainder of life in 80 to 90 percent of patients. Of course there are always exceptions, and many patients age into their 90s and have joint replacements lasting well over 20 years. However, knowing the averages can help you think about the timing of your joint replacement.
Reasons why you may need a second replacement.
Most of the time, patients who need a second replacement surgery experience pain that interferes with daily living. The reason why you may need a second surgery depends on when the joint replacement wears out. In instances where you need another joint replacement within a few years after your first surgery, you can likely attribute the reason to something happening around the time of surgery, like a fracture during recovery. If you need a second surgery in ten years or so, it’s more likely that the artificial parts loosened over time. The reasons why joint replacements wear out can be summed in the following points:
- Loosening through general wear and tear
- Infection at the time of surgery or years later
- Joint dislocation causes instability (e.g., hip dislocation)
- Fracture that occurs early on after the initial surgery, or decades later when bones become more fragile due to osteoporosis
Watch our interview with Dr. Ring to learn more about hip and knee replacements:
When is the right time to get a joint replacement?
In most cases, joint replacement is elective surgery which means the timing is up to you. Your decision comes down to pain and function. If you can comfortably do everything in your life that you need to, it may not be time to consider surgery. But, if you have intense pain in your hip or knee joint that makes it harder to move around during day-to-day activity, like walking or navigating stairs, it’s important to talk to a doctor. Your orthopedist will recommend nonsurgical treatment options first to see if there’s anything less invasive that can help you manage your pain and resume normal function. If that doesn’t work, surgery is a safe and effective option for getting you back to an active lifestyle with less pain.
In certain cases where the knee or hip is so arthritic that it buckles and poses a fall risk, we may encourage you to think about surgery sooner rather than later. But for those who are stable on their feet, there’s never a rush for surgery. It’s always a matter of pain and personal goals. If you’re on the fence, you’re probably not ready. You are the only one who can decide when you’ve had enough of the pain or functional challenges, and we’re here for you either way.
You can’t always prevent the need for a new hip or knee, but avoiding injuries when you’re young and maintaining a healthy weight can help you potentially delay or avoid joint replacement. Still, it’s common to have pain in your hips and knees caused by arthritis as you age. We can’t give you the knee you had when you were 30, but there are a lot of things we can do to alleviate that pain, improve your function, and overall give you a better quality of life.