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Osteoarthritis Health Center

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Surgery for Osteoarthritis Joint Pain

If you get little or no joint pain relief from osteoarthritis medications, it may be time to consider joint surgery.

Talk it over with your doctor. Ask what the risks and benefits are and if there is something else you should try first.

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If your doctor thinks you may need surgery, ask for a referral to an orthopedic surgeon to talk about what type of surgery you may need.


What happens: The surgeon will make a small cut near the damaged joint and use a tiny light and video camera, called an arthroscope, to see inside. The surgeon can see the camera’s view on a monitor and treat the areas that need to be fixed.

For instance, the doctor can take out damaged cartilage and free-floating pieces of bone and other tissue in the knee, which can wear down the joint.


  • It’s quick, sometimes taking as little as an hour.
  • Most people don’t need to stay in a hospital overnight.
  • There's less tissue damage and blood loss.
  • There will be less pain after surgery.
  • Complications are less likely.

Risks: As with any surgery, there is a risk of infection and complications from anesthesia, which can include mental confusion, lung infection, and heart problems. Risks of arthroscopic joint surgery include:

  • Bleeding inside the joint, or a blood clot
  • Nerve damage
  • Damage to cartilage, muscles, ligaments, or tendons
  • Infection

Recovery: You will probably get medicine to ease your pain and reduce inflammation. For a few days after surgery, you may have to wrap your joint and ice it, rest it, and elevate it to help reduce pain and swelling. You may need crutches, a sling, or splints. Your surgeon may suggest physical therapy.

After arthroscopy, most people go back to their normal routine within days. It may take a few weeks before the joint recovers fully.

Total Joint Replacement (Arthroplasty)

What happens: Your surgeon will remove all or part of a damaged joint and replace it with a new one.

Knees and hips are the most commonly replaced joints. Doctors can also replace shoulders, elbows, fingers, ankles, and other joints, but the results are not as reliable.

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