Arthritis Surgery: Options, Pros vs. Cons, Surgeons

Arthritis can cause symptoms like joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. The main goal of surgeries used to treat arthritis is to restore proper function and mobility.

This article will focus on the important considerations you should take when contemplating surgery as a treatment option for arthritis.

Healthcare provider looking at an X-ray.

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Arthritis Surgery Considerations

There are several different types of joints in the body, like hinge joints (i.e., your fingers and knees) and ball and socket joints (i.e., your shoulders and hips), each of which require different types of arthritis surgery. The type of surgery needed depends largely on the joint affected and how badly the joint has been damaged.

Regardless of the type of surgery, here are a few general pros and cons of arthritis surgery.


Pros of arthritis surgery include:

  • Can alleviate chronic pain: In people with long-standing diseases and significant damage to the joint, surgeries, such as total joint replacement, can provide a smooth surface for the new joint to move and function with little to no debilitating pain.
  • May increase or restore flexibility and mobility: Loss of cartilage within a joint space due to arthritis causes pain and can limit flexibility and mobility. Some surgeries, like total joint replacements, will remove the damaged cartilage and replace it with a new, artificial joint, thereby restoring previous mobility.


Cons of arthritis surgery include:

  • Recovery can be a long road: Most orthopedic surgeries require regular physical therapy for months afterward.
  • Potential complications: Complications can range from mild to severe and life-threatening. Some common possible complications of surgery include pain, infection, permanent nerve damage, blood clots called deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolisms, in which a blood clot becomes stuck in the lungs.
  • It may be costly: Some insurance companies may deny surgical interventions entirely or until all other conservative measures have failed.

Types of Arthritis Surgery

Several types of surgery are used to treat arthritis, so it is important to discuss with a healthcare provider which may be the most beneficial for you. Some of the most common types of arthritis surgery are:

Arthroplasty: This is the most commonly performed surgery for arthritis and is also known as total joint replacement surgery. Common sites for this type of arthritis include the hips, knees, and shoulders. Sometimes, the entire joint is replaced, while a partial joint replacement may be more appropriate in other cases.

Arthrodesis: In this type of surgery, the two bones which make up a given joint are fused, eliminating the joint space. This procedure is effective at relieving pain, but it will not restore mobility or flexibility. It will decrease the mobility of the joint, which can, at times, be problematic. It is commonly used on the hands and feet because these joints can't be replaced.

Arthroscopic surgery: This is a minimally invasive surgery. It uses a small camera called an arthroscope to access a joint through smaller incisions. It is an alternative to invasive procedures, such as arthroplasty. It can diagnose and treat meniscal (cartilage) tears in the knees, labral tears in the shoulders or hips, and even some rotator cuff tears in the shoulders.

Who Is Arthritis Surgery For?

It is important to note that arthritis surgery is not an option for everyone. Several factors go into deciding who should and shouldn't have orthopedic surgery, including age, additional medical conditions (co-morbidities), whether you've had difficulty with anesthesia and/or healing in the past, and other factors. Generally, the decision whether or not to get surgery is made based on the following:

  • Overall health and medical condition
  • Fitness for surgery (i.e., will you be able to recover from surgery in a timely manner)
  • How badly arthritis symptoms impact your life

Often, surgery is considered the last resort when other, more conservative measures have failed to reduce symptoms. In addition to treating potential underlying causes of joint damage, it is also important to ask your healthcare provider about other options like:

What to Expect During Recovery

The recovery timeline may vary depending on the surgery, but most orthopedic surgeries require physical therapy during recovery. Physical therapy is usually initiated very soon after the surgery to ensure increased and improved mobility and flexibility. Physical therapy may last for several weeks to months after the procedure.

Some pain and discomfort can be expected during the recovery period. However, it should not increase with time. If this is the case, it is crucial to speak with the surgeon immediately.

Finding an Arthritis Surgeon

A surgeon specializing in diseases of the joints and arthritis surgeries is known as an orthopedic surgeon. Your primary care provider or rheumatologist can give you a referral. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons also has a directory to help you identify a local orthopedist.

Make sure to research your surgeon's credentials. Many orthopedists specialize in specific procedures or joints, so it is essential to find one who can properly take care of your affected joint.

Surgery Cost and Affordability Options

Surgeries can be very costly, so discussing affordability with your healthcare provider is helpful. Most commercial insurances, as well as government coverage, like Medicare, may cover at least a portion of arthritis surgery, depending on several factors like:

  • Medical necessity
  • Failure to respond to preferred, more conservative treatments
  • Deductibles
  • Participation of the surgeon and the institution with the insurance companies

Starting January 1st, 2022, the United States government enacted the "No Surprises Act" to help people avoid surprise medical costs from emergency services and out-of-network costs. Be sure to speak with your surgeon about the procedure's potential costs before surgery to avoid overwhelming and surprising medical bills.


Many options are available today for people with arthritis, one of which is surgery. Depending on the type of joint damage you have, an orthopedic surgeon will be able to determine the best surgical option.

Speaking with an orthopedist about the procedure, its potential risks, recovery details, and affordability should all be done before surgery to avoid any unnecessary issues after the fact.

A Word From Verywell

Many factors determine whether or not surgery is the best option for you. Speak to an orthopedist who is best suited to determine which procedure may be right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How successful is arthritis surgery?

    Success rates of arthritis surgeries depend on several factors, including the type of surgery, the surgeon's expertise, the preparedness of the performing hospital or surgical center, and the person's willingness and accuracy of the physical therapist in recovery. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons claims that more than 90% of prosthetic joints are still working well 15 years after total knee replacements. Be sure to speak with your orthopedist about the specific success rate of your surgery.

  • What can you do to prepare for arthritis surgery?

    Pre-operative rules and guidelines will be discussed with you before the procedure itself. You'll often need to stop taking certain medications, like blood thinners and over-the-counter (OTC) vitamins, a few days before surgery. It is also essential to set up recovery measures after surgery, including a ride to physical therapy or a short stay at a rehabilitation center.

  • Is there any reason someone shouldn’t have arthritis surgery?

    Orthopedic surgery for arthritis is not an option for everyone. Several factors go into determining who is and isn't a candidate for arthritis surgery, including age, risk factors, co-morbidities, the severity of joint disease/damage, and more. It is important to speak with an orthopedist to determine if surgery is the right option for you.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Katherine Alexis Athanasiou, PA-C
Katherine Alexis Athanasiou is a New York-based certified Physician Assistant with clinical experience in Rheumatology and Family Medicine. She is a lifelong writer with works published in several local newspapers, The Journal of the American Academy of PAs, Health Digest, and more.