The length of time a total joint replacement lasts depends on a variety of factors. Some of these factors are technical, including the type of material used in making the artificial joint and the accuracy of the angle at which the new joint is installed. Other factors are more dependent upon the patient, including the amount of pre-surgery exercise, weight loss prior to surgery and keeping weight off after surgery, adherence to the rehab program after surgery, avoidance of falls, etc.
When advances are made in joint replacement surgery, it takes many years to measure the impact of improvement. The only way to know if something will last longer than 20 years, is to wait 20 years. However, research does seem to indicate that the lifespan of artificial joints is increasing.
The length of time a new joint is expected to last helps patients have confidence in the replacement procedure. It also helps patients decide when to have total joint replacement surgery.
When total joint replacement surgery was first developed, it was usually only used as a last resort for patients who would become wheelchair-bound without it. Now that materials and techniques have proven their effectiveness, total joint replacements are being done on patients who are younger and in better shape. This means that joint replacement surgery is able to impact and improve more lives. It also means that there are more patients who are likely to live long enough to need a second, or even third, artificial joint.
The replacement of one artificial joint with another is known as “revision surgery”. The success rate for revision surgeries is lower than it is for a first-time joint replacement. Knowing how long a joint replacement is expected to last helps younger patients decide how long to wait before having their first joint replacement. If waiting will help decrease the chances that a second, or even a third joint replacement will be needed, then the best decision may be to delay surgery if the condition of the patient allows it.
As materials and surgical techniques progress, hopefully the durability of total joint replacements will continue to increase.