Arthritis Surgery: When Is It Necessary and What Are Your Options?

Arthritis Surgery

Have you been suffering from arthritis pain and wondering if surgery is the best option for you? Arthritis surgery may be recommended when other treatments, such as medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes, have not provided relief.

It's important to note that surgery is not always the best option for everyone. Your healthcare provider will work with you to determine if surgery is necessary and which procedure is best for your individual needs.

The decision to undergo surgery is typically made when the pain has become severe enough to significantly affect your quality of life. But what types of surgery are available, and how effective are they?

If you're looking for answers to these questions and more, then this article is for you. We've consulted with top arthritis experts to provide you with the most accurate and up-to-date information on arthritis surgery. From joint replacements to arthroscopy, we'll explore the different types of surgery available, the risks and benefits of each, and what to expect before, during, and after surgery.

So, without further ado, let's dive into the world of arthritis surgery and find the best options for your individual needs.

When is Arthritis Surgery Necessary?

Arthritis surgery may be necessary when non-surgical treatments such as medication, physical therapy, or lifestyle changes fail to relieve symptoms and pain. The decision to undergo surgery is usually made by a medical professional after a thorough evaluation of the patient's condition and medical history.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, surgery may be necessary if:

  • Pain is severe and limits daily activities.
  • There is significant joint damage that cannot be repaired.
  • The joint is unstable and causes difficulty walking or standing.
  • Other treatments have failed to provide relief.

It's important to note that surgery is not always the best option for everyone. Your healthcare provider will work with you to determine if surgery is necessary and which procedure is best for your individual needs.

Types of Arthritis Surgeries

There are several types of arthritis surgery, each with its own benefits and potential downsides. Let's take a closer look at each procedure:

Joint Replacement Surgery

Joint replacement surgery is one of the most common types of arthritis surgery. It involves removing damaged joint surfaces and replacing them with artificial components made of metal, plastic, or ceramic. Joint replacement surgery can be performed on several joints, including the hip, knee, and shoulder.

Joint replacement surgery is often recommended when joint damage is severe and non-surgical treatments are no longer effective in managing symptoms. The benefits of joint replacement surgery include:

  • Reduced pain
  • Increased range of motion
  • Improved joint function
  • Improved quality of life

However, joint replacement surgery also carries some risks, including infection, blood clots, and joint dislocation. Your healthcare provider will discuss the risks and benefits of joint replacement surgery with you before the procedure.


Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that allows healthcare providers to examine and repair joint damage. During arthroscopy, a small camera is inserted into the joint, allowing the healthcare provider to see the joint on a screen. Small instruments are then used to repair any damage, such as removing loose pieces of cartilage.

Arthroscopy is often recommended for less severe joint damage, such as meniscal tears in the knee. The benefits of arthroscopy include:

  • Less pain and scarring than traditional surgery
  • Faster recovery time
  • Reduced risk of infection


Osteotomy is a surgical procedure that involves cutting and repositioning bones to correct joint deformities. Osteotomy is often recommended for younger patients with joint damage who are not yet candidates for joint replacement surgery.

The benefits of osteotomy include:

  • Improved joint alignment
  • Reduced pain
  • Delayed need for joint replacement surgery

Infection, nerve damage, and blood clots are just a few of the potential complications that might arise after an osteotomy. You and your doctor will talk about the pros and cons of osteotomy before you go through with it.


Synovectomy is a surgical procedure that involves removing the synovial membrane, which lines the joints and produces synovial fluid. Synovectomy is often recommended for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, where the synovial membrane becomes inflamed and damages the joint.

The benefits of synovectomy include:

  • Reduced pain and inflammation
  • Improved joint function
  • Delayed need for joint replacement surgery

However, synovectomy may not be effective for all patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and the benefits may not last long-term. Your healthcare provider will work with you to determine if synovectomy is the best option for your individual needs.

Fusion Surgery

Fusion surgery, also known as arthrodesis, is a type of arthritis surgery that involves fusing two or more bones in a joint together. The goal of fusion surgery is to reduce pain and improve joint function by eliminating movement in the joint.

During fusion surgery, the surgeon will remove the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones in the affected joint. The surgeon will then use screws, plates, or rods to hold the bones together until they grow together and fuse into one solid bone. This eliminates movement in the joint, reducing pain and improving joint function. Fusion surgery may be recommended for patients with severe joint damage who have not responded to non-surgical treatments such as medication and physical therapy. It may be particularly effective for patients with arthritis in the spine, hips, or ankles.

The benefits of fusion surgery including:

  • Reduced pain and inflammation
  • Improved joint function
  • Long-lasting results

It's important to discuss the potential risks and benefits of fusion surgery with your healthcare provider to determine if it's the right option for your individual needs.

What to Expect During Recovery

Recovery from arthritis surgery can vary depending on the type of surgery and individual factors such as age and overall health. In general, it's important to follow your healthcare provider's instructions carefully to ensure a smooth recovery.

Some general tips for recovering from arthritis surgery include:

  • Resting and elevating the affected joint.
  • Using pain medication as prescribed.
  • Participating in physical therapy as recommended.
  • Avoiding strenuous activities until cleared by your healthcare provider.

It's important to attend all follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider to monitor your recovery progress and address any concerns or complications.

Is Surgery Always Necessary for Arthritis?

No, surgery is not always necessary for arthritis. In fact, most people with arthritis are able to manage their symptoms with non-surgical treatments such as medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications. Surgery is typically considered a last resort when non-surgical treatments have failed to provide relief.

However, in some cases, surgery may be necessary to correct joint damage, relieve pain, and improve function. Your healthcare provider will evaluate your individual needs and recommend the most appropriate treatment plan based on the severity and type of arthritis you have.

What Are the Risks of Arthritis Surgery?

As with any surgery, there are risks associated with arthritis surgery. While the risks vary depending on the type of surgery and individual factors, some of the potential complications of arthritis surgery include:

  • Infection: Surgery carries a risk of infection, which can be serious and may require additional treatment.
  • Bleeding: Excessive bleeding can occur during or after surgery, which may require a blood transfusion or additional surgery.
  • Blood clots: Blood clots can form in the veins after surgery, which can be life-threatening if they travel to the lungs or heart.
  • Nerve damage: Surgery can cause nerve damage, which may lead to numbness, tingling, weakness, or paralysis.
  • Anesthesia risks: General anesthesia can cause complications such as nausea, vomiting, or respiratory problems.
  • Failure to relieve symptoms: Surgery may not provide the desired level of pain relief or improved function.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from Arthritis Surgery?

Arthritis surgery recovery depends on type and health. Joint replacement surgery may take longer to heal. Before surgery, discuss recuperation with your doctor.

  • Hip or knee revision surgery recovery can take weeks or months. Physical therapy and rehabilitation help restore mobility and strength. Recovery may require crutches or walkers.
  • A long-handled shower hose, dressing stick, sock assistance, or shoe horn may help after rheumatoid arthritis surgery [[2]]. Patients may need to make house modifications to limit injury risk and enhance accessibility.
  • Physical therapy may increase range of motion and minimize pain after knee replacement surgery. Recovery may require crutches or walkers.
  • Trapeziectomy surgery may require a wrist cast or splint. The first week after recuperation may require icing and elevating the hand.
  • Shoulder replacement recovery time depends on the patient. X-rays and a short recuperation period follow surgery. Patients are warned not to move the shoulder unless ordered to. Most individuals can go home the day after surgery, but some may need to stay longer.

To recover safely from arthritis surgery, patients should follow their doctor's post-op recommendations and attend all follow-up appointments.

Complications of Arthritis Surgery

Arthritis surgery can cause mild to life-threatening consequences. Arthritis surgery requires months of physical treatment. Arthritis surgery can cause pain, infection, irreversible nerve damage, and anesthetic responses. Surgery may fail, and the patient may not benefit. Open synovectomy can limit range of motion, cause significant complications, and relieve discomfort temporarily.

However, arthroscopic synovectomy is cheaper and less risky. Removal and replacement of a failed, diseased, or worn-out implant can also cause difficulties. In conclusion, arthritis surgery may have consequences depending on the type and the patient's health. Before surgery, explore risks and advantages with a doctor.


To treat the symptoms of joint deterioration, arthritis surgery may be required in some circumstances. There are many potential treatments for joint pain, including joint replacement surgery, arthroscopy, osteotomy, and synovectomy.

Following your healthcare provider's recommendations properly can aid in a speedy recovery from arthritis surgery, though this varies by patient. The optimal course of therapy for you will be determined once you and your doctor have discussed all of your options.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top