Replacing a replacement: When an artificial joint wears out

Joint Health

by Al Mollabashy, MD

Jan 13, 2021

When you buy a new car, even one that has top ratings for quality, you still know that eventually it will have to be replaced — like virtually everything else that is man-made. That includes the artificial joints used during knee and hip replacement procedures.

Many of the more than 1 million people each year in the U.S. who have a hip or knee replacement procedure may need to eventually have their joint replacement repaired or replaced through a joint revision procedure. That is, if they want to keep moving better. With people living longer and remaining active even with an artificial joint, the number of people needing joint revision is only set to increase.

So, how do you know when the time has come for a new joint? Here’s your guide to making sense of your joint replacement options.

How long does an artificial joint last?

Like a car, it depends. On average, a reliable hip or knee joint prosthesis should last about 15 years. However, some can last 20 years while others only 10. Over time, wear and tear compromises the fixation — where it is placed — and the mechanics — how it works — of the replacement joint, impacting its lifespan. A patient’s weight, level and type of activity can affect the life of an artificial joint as well.

Infections, including common ones such as strep and urinary tract, can also travel throughout the body and occasionally lead to a serious infection at the site of a joint replacement that cause it to fail. Sometimes, an artificial joint can fail immediately after it is implanted due to an infection or other issue during or right after the replacement procedure.

Are there ways to extend the life of an artificial joint?

As with other mechanical devices, maintenance is key. For an artificial joint, that means an exam and X-ray to make sure it is secure, stable and not overly worn every two years or so. Detecting any issues early on can help prevent needing a more complex procedure to correct it and add life to the joint.

Also, maintaining a healthy weight and following recommendations from your healthcare provider on physical activity can help decrease stress on the joint, helping to preserve it.


When is it time to consider getting a joint revision procedure?

For most patients, it’s not the age of the joint prosthesis that determines when it should be replaced, but the symptoms it’s causing. Patients may need to be evaluated for a possible joint revision procedure if they are experiencing:

  • Ongoing aching in the joint
  • Inability to sleep due to pain
  • Start-up pain (pain after getting up in morning that later goes away)
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty going up and down stairs or with other normal movements
  • Instability
  • Falls

How different is a joint revision procedure from a joint replacement procedure?

From a surgeon’s perspective, joint revision surgery itself is typically more difficult and takes more time to perform. The anatomy has often changed, and there is more complexity. That’s why it’s generally a good idea for patients to find an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in joint revision, rather than joint replacement procedures, because of their experience.

That said, the vast majority of the time, patients have a stable replacement that’s ready to be used immediately after revision surgery. And, the recovery and rehabilitation processes are similar to when they had their initial joint replacement.


No one looks forward to joint revision surgery. But, once the joint is restored and properly functioning again, patients’ quality of life usually improves rapidly, and they find it well worth it.

Ready to move better? Learn more about joint revision here.

About the Author

Al Mollabashy, MD, is an orthopedic oncology surgeon and medical director of musculoskeletal tumor services for Baylor Scott & White Health. He focuses his practice on caring for patients with potentially life-threatening orthopedic issues, addressing complex joint conditions and performing joint revision procedures for patients with failed joint replacements.

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