Orthopedic surgery: frequently asked questions

Check out answers to frequently asked questions. They may help you decide whether orthopedic surgery is right for you.

Question: When is the right time to have surgery?

Answer: There's no one-size-fits-all answer for deciding when to have surgery. Your orthopedic surgeon or other doctors will help you determine when surgery is the most appropriate next step. Key considerations include whether you're in pain, if you're experiencing instability or decreased mobility, and whether the injury or condition is affecting your quality of life.

Question: What should I expect immediately after surgery?

Answer: With just about any orthopedic surgical procedure, including joint replacement surgery and revision surgery (replacing a worn-out artificial joint from a previous surgery), you'll have some pain and swelling. Your doctor and clinical team will work with you to effectively manage your pain and ensure you're healing as expected.

Question:How long does it take to recover from orthopedic surgery?

Answer: Many factors determine how long it will take for you to fully recover and see the benefits of orthopedic surgery. For some patients, recovery takes a few weeks. For others, it can take several months. Depending on your overall health, the condition for which you were treated and the type of surgery performed, you may be able to go home the same day or the day after surgery even if you had total joint replacement surgery.

In most cases, you'll be discharged to your home. In-home nursing care or outpatient physical therapy will maximize the benefits of your surgery. A small group of patients may need to spend a few days at a skilled nursing facility before they can return home. Talk to your orthopedic surgeon to learn more about what your individual recovery plan may look like.

Question: Will I be able to do everything I used to do after surgery?

Answer: While the goal of surgery is to restore function and get you moving without pain, there are usually some limitations after orthopedic surgery. Talk to your orthopedic surgeon about realistic expectations after surgery.

Question: What is minimally invasive surgery?

Answer: Minimally invasive surgery uses medical instruments and cameras that let doctors see the area being operated on without the need for large incisions. Minimally invasive surgery accomplishes the same treatment goals as traditional open surgery, but typically results in:

  • Smaller incisions.
  • Less damage to surrounding muscles and tissues.
  • Less blood loss.
  • Shorter hospital stays.
  • Less scarring.
  • Speedier recovery times.

Question: What kind of pain will I have after surgery?

Answer: Pain is relative — your tolerance for pain may differ from that of the next person. It's natural to experience some pain or discomfort at the surgical site as well as some possible bone/joint tenderness after surgery. Your orthopedic surgeon will work closely with your clinical team and other caregivers to determine the best pain management strategy for you.

Question: How long do artificial joints last?

Answer: Advances in medical technologies — including the prosthetic materials used in total and partial hip, knee, elbow and shoulder joints — continue to extend the life expectancy of artificial joints. Generally speaking, today's prosthetic devices can last upwards of 15-20 years. Factors that can impact the durability of prosthetics include your activity level, overall health, weight and whether you have arthritis.

Question: What is revision surgery?

Answer: Like human bone, the prosthetic devices used in joint replacement surgery can become damaged or simply wear out. If you've previously had partial or total joint replacement surgery but need to have the joint operated on again, it's considered revision surgery.

Question: What is arthroplasty?

Answer: Arthroplasty is the reconstruction or replacement of a joint such as a shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee or ankle. Depending on the extent of the joint injury or condition, you may need partial or total arthroplasty.

Question: What is arthroscopic surgery?

Answer: Arthroscopic surgery is a type of minimally invasive surgery that requires only small incisions thanks to a device known as an arthroscope. It lets your surgeon see inside the body and view the specific area being worked on during surgery without the need for large incisions.

Question: Is a fracture the same as a sprain?

Answer: A fracture is a broken bone. A sprain occurs when you injure the ligaments that connect your bones.