If arthritis causes serious damage to the joints, a person may require surgery. Arthritis surgery can help fix or replace a damaged joint, reduce pain, and improve the way the joint functions.

Arthritis is the name for inflammation or swelling of a joint. More than 100 types of arthritis affect the joints, the surrounding tissues, and other connective tissues.

Common treatments for arthritis include anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, occupational therapy, assistive aids, and nonpharmacological therapies.

If standard treatments do not work or the joints become too damaged, arthritis surgery may be necessary.

This article discusses the different types of arthritis surgery and their benefits. It also looks at some alternatives to surgery.

A surgeon with head torch.Share on Pinterest
Rubberball/Nicole Hill/Getty Images

Arthritis surgery has many benefits, including:

  • reducing joint pain
  • improving joint function
  • preventing further joint damage
  • helping the person reduce their use of anti-inflammatory drugs
  • improving mobility
  • improving daily functioning
  • improving quality of life
  • delaying the need for more intensive surgery, such as a joint replacement

When carrying out an arthroscopy, a surgeon makes a small incision near the joint. They then insert a tiny camera and specialized instruments to fix small tears in the soft tissue within the joint.

Arthroscopy is a common treatment for arthritis in the knee, hip, shoulder, and other joints.

A surgeon can also use arthroscopy to remove damaged cartilage and ligaments, as well as broken cartilage pieces that are floating in a joint.

The Arthritis Foundation does not recommend the use of arthroscopy to treat a type of arthritis called osteoarthritis. It states that a knee arthroscopy rarely relieves pain and that when it does, the relief is often short-lived.

Learn more about knee arthroscopy.

Joint resurfacing involves replacing part of a joint. The surgeon will remove a damaged part of the joint and replace it with an implant.

This is an alternative treatment to a total joint replacement.

During knee joint resurfacing surgery, the surgeon will remove one of the knee’s three compartments. They will then replace this with an implant.

When performing hip joint resurfacing surgery, the surgeon will replace the joint’s socket with a metal cup. They may then reshape the damaged hip ball and cap it with a metal, dome-shaped implant.

This surgery can reduce joint pain and help the joint function correctly.

Osteotomy means “cutting of the bone.” During this procedure, a surgeon will remove a piece of bone or add a wedge of bone near to a damaged joint.

A knee osteotomy can help a person who has damage on one side of their knee. The procedure can shift weight away from the damaged side of the joint to help reduce pain and improve knee function.

A hip osteotomy can correct misalignment of the bones in the joint, known as hip dysplasia, which often occurs in early life.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, an osteotomy can halt joint damage and delay the need for a joint replacement for 10–15 years.

The lining tissue of the joints is called the synovium. Inflammatory arthritis can cause the synovium to become inflamed or grow too much, which can damage the surrounding cartilage and joints.

During a synovectomy, a surgeon removes most or all of the inflamed synovium. They may carry out this procedure through open surgery or arthroscopy.

A synovectomy can help by:

  • reducing joint pain
  • reducing local tissue and bone damage
  • improving joint function
  • helping the person reduce their use of anti-inflammatory drugs

However, there is a chance that an open synovectomy will limit the person’s range of motion and provide only temporary pain relief.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthroscopic synovectomy is a less expensive alternative with fewer complications.

If a person has severe joint damage due to osteoarthritis or inflammatory arthritis, they may require arthrodesis or fusion surgery.

During this procedure, a surgeon will use hardware, such as pins, plates, or rods, to join two or more bones. They may join bones in the ankle, wrist, thumb, finger, or spine to make one continuous joint.

After surgery, the bones can grow together and lock the joint in place over time.

This surgery can improve the strength of the joint and reduce joint pain.

The results of the procedure should last a lifetime, though revisions may be required on occasion.

The potential downsides are that the fusing of joints can reduce their range of motion and flexibility while also changing their biomechanics. These effects can put added stress on surrounding joints and lead to long-term pain and the development of arthritis in other areas of the body.

During a total joint replacement (TJR), a surgeon will remove parts of an arthritic or damaged joint and replace them with a prosthesis.

The prosthesis can be metal, plastic, or ceramic, and it will replicate the movement of a healthy joint.

Hip and knee replacements are the most common TJR surgeries. However, a surgeon can also carry out this procedure on other joints, including the ankle, wrist, shoulder, and elbow.

TJR is a safe and effective procedure that can benefit a person by:

  • reducing joint pain
  • improving mobility
  • improving daily functioning
  • boosting the quality of life

Learn more about hip replacement surgery for rheumatoid arthritis.

A minimally invasive TJR is similar to a regular TJR, but it involves shorter incisions. The surgeon also cuts and reattaches less muscle.

This procedure still involves cutting and removing bone and adding implants.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, a minimally invasive TJR results in less pain, less time in the hospital, and a quicker recovery than a regular TJR.

If a person has an artificial joint or an implant in their joint, it can become worn over time. Most implants can last 15–20 years, but if a person gets one as a young adult, they may eventually require a new one.

A joint revision is a procedure that aims to remove a damaged implant and replace it with a new one.

This procedure has several benefits, including:

  • relieving pain
  • improving mobility
  • strengthening the joint
  • improving coordination

Revisions are often more complex and less successful than initial joint replacement surgery. This can mean that complete pain relief and a return to full function may not be possible.

Before a person undergoes arthritis surgery, they may wish to ask their surgeon some of these questions:

  • What is the process for being admitted to the hospital?
  • What type of anesthesia will you use?
  • How long will the surgery last?
  • How long will the recovery take?
  • How will I manage pain after the surgery?
  • What will insurance cover for surgery and rehabilitation?

Arthritis surgery can lead to several complications.

In some cases, surgery may not be successful, which means that the person may not feel the benefits of the procedure.

Surgeries that are not successful can limit the range of motion around the affected joint. They may also provide only temporary pain relief.

Other complications of arthritis surgery include:

  • pain
  • infections
  • blood clots
  • injuries to vessels and nerves
  • stiffness in the joint
  • slow healing

A person with arthritis can consider other, nonsurgical treatment options.

Other treatments for arthritis include:

  • physical therapy and muscle-strengthening exercises
  • medications, including pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroid injections, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and biologics
  • the use of mobility aids, such as crutches or canes
  • the use of joint supports, such as braces
  • lifestyle changes, which may include losing weight, becoming more active, and avoiding activities that put added stress on affected joints

Successful arthritis surgery can reduce joint pain, improve range of movement, and improve the quality of life.

Surgery may also reduce a person’s likelihood of requiring more intensive surgery in the future and prevent further joint and bone damage.

Some people with arthritis may require surgery. Arthritis surgery can help repair or replace a damaged joint. In doing so, it can reduce pain and improve the way the affected joint functions.

There are different types of arthritis surgery, including arthroscopy, joint resurfacing, osteotomy, and TJR.

After surgery, a person may experience temporary soreness and restricted movement, but these problems should resolve in time.

A person may also wish to undergo physical therapy to strengthen the muscles and provide added support to their joints after surgery.