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 In Ask an Expert, Orthopedics, Pulse Blog

Q: How long do artificial joints last?

Joint replacements can dramatically improve patients’ quality of life, allowing them to move with less pain. When my patients express concerns about undergoing surgery only to have their new joint wear out later, I like to help alleviate their fears by explaining how far durability has come.

Material scientists have made great strides in the technology used to make implants. One of their biggest advances has been to a plastic called polyethylene. Decades ago, this plastic material was processed in a way that would result in some joint replacements “wearing out” after about 15 to 20 years. In 1980, a 70-year-old patient undergoing a knee replacement would likely have been counselled that they may require revision surgery in their late 80s due to wear on the implant. At the time it was a reasonable warning. Polyethylene component failure was a leading cause of revision surgery up until about the year 2000.

Around this time, a new technology was developed in polyethylene processing. Today, revision surgeries due to a hip or knee replacement wearing out have decreased considerably. In 2020, the expectation is that a well-done joint replacement should not have this complication. While revision surgery may still be required occasionally, orthopedists like myself expect these types of procedures to decrease with continued technology advances.

Doctors also know a lot more about replacing joints than they did twenty or thirty years ago. We have robotic equipment that helps us operate with incredible precision. We also know what it takes to help patients recover quicker than ever, with fewer complications. In short, the process of having a joint replaced in 2020 is notably different than the process one might have experienced in 1970 or 1980.

—Carlos Williams, MD

Dr. Carlos Williams believes that movement is life. As an orthopedic surgeon, he is gratified to help patients reclaim their ability to move freely and with less pain. His special medical interests include knee replacements; hip replacements with an anterior approach; and robotic-assisted joint replacement surgery.

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