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Joint Replacement Infection

No surgical procedure is free of risk, joint replacement included.

One risk is that of infection. A relatively small number of patients - about one in 100 - may develop an infection after joint replacement.

The infection is often in the wound or deep around the implant. It can occur at any time after your surgery, from hours to days to years after. It is important to know the signs so you can seek immediate treatment.

Causes and symptoms

Joint infections are caused by bacteria entering the bloodstream, which happens through cuts, dental procedures and other wounds.

Certain groups of people are also at greater risk of infection, particularly those who:

  • Have immune deficiencies, such as HIV
  • Have diabetes mellitus
  • Have poor circulation
  • Are receiving chemotherapy or corticosteroids
  • Are overweight

Signs of a possible joint infection include:

  • Sudden pain and stiffness in the joint
  • Swelling
  • Fatigue
  • Redness or warmth around the wound
  • Wound drainage


Some cases of joint infection can be treated nonsurgically. If the infection only affects the skin and tissue around the joint, but not the joint itself, oral or intravenous antibiotics can be given.

If the infection has spread to the joint, however, surgery is required. There are two surgical methods to treat joint infection:


If the infection is caught within several days of onset, it may be possible to cure the infection by washing out the joint. Debridement involves all of the contaminated soft tissue around your joint. The implant is then cleaned and the plastic liner is replaced. Following the procedure, IV antibiotics will be given for about six weeks.

Staged surgery

Staged surgery is surgery done in several steps over a period of time. This type of surgery may be necessary to cure an infection that has been present for more than a few days, or if the infection occurred months or years after the initial surgery.

The first stage involves:

  • Removing the implant
  • Washing out the joint and surrounding soft tissues
  • Implanting an antibiotic spacer, which helps maintain normal alignment of the joint
  • Taking IV antibiotics for at least six weeks

Once you have been declared free from infection, you will be a candidate for revision surgery. In this procedure, the antibiotic spacer will be removed, your joint will be washed out and a new knee or hip joint will be implanted.

To learn more, call 714-456-7012 or schedule an appointment online ›

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