Understand the potential risks and complications

What are the potential risks in joint replacement surgery?

Most operations are performed without incident, and the complication rate following joint replacement surgery is very low. Serious complications, such as joint infection, occur in less than 2% of patients.1

However, all operations carry some risks and although everything will be done to keep these to a minimum, you should be aware of them before agreeing to have an operation.

When you have total joint replacement surgery, some of the risks are outlined below. Or, alternatively:

Reference
1. Hanssen, A.D., et al., “Evaluation and Treatment of Infection at the Site of Total Hip or Knee Arthroplasty,” JBJS, Volume. 80-A, No. 6, June 1998, pp. 910-922.

Joint infection

Joint infection

This occurs in less than 2% of patients. Infection may occur in the wound or within the area around the new joint, and can happen in the hospital, after you return home, or even years later.

After your joint replacement surgery, you’ll receive antibiotics to help prevent infection. You may also need to take antibiotics before undergoing any medical procedures to reduce the chance of infection spreading to the artificial joint.

Dislocation

Dislocation

If you’re having a hip replacement, dislocation is when the hip comes out of the socket. Your new hip implant is at greater risk of dislocating than a natural hip, and your doctor will go through precautions you should take to ensure that this doesn't happen.  In the case of a knee replacement, the patella (knee cap) can dislocate as well.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Blood clots in your leg veins or pelvis are the most common complication of joint replacement surgery. Your surgeon may prescribe measures to prevent these (or prevent them from becoming symptomatic) such as getting mobile as early as possible, special support hose, inflatable leg coverings, ankle pump exercises and blood thinners.

Uneven legs

Uneven legs

Leg-length discrepancy may occur after hip replacement. Your surgeon may increase the length of the implant to make it stable so it won’t come out of place. This can be treated with exercises to strengthen the muscles, or you may feel more comfortable with a shoe lift in the opposite shoe after surgery.

Nerve/blood vessel injury

Nerve/blood vessel injury

Nerves, arteries and veins pass around both the hip and the knee and can be damaged. This is a very rare complication.

Wear and tear

Wear and tear

This depends on many factors including your age and activity level. Advancements in implant design have come a long way in recent years, and implants are extensively tested for strength to minimise wear.

Lung congestion

Lung congestion

Pneumonia is always a risk following major surgery. To help keep the lungs clear of congestion, you may be given a series of deep breathing exercises.

Next Steps

Contact your GP or health professional to discuss your options