What Are Prosthetic Joint Infections?

Prosthetic joint infection (PJI) is a serious complication of joint replacements involving hips, knees, shoulders, elbows, wrists and ankles.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of joint replacements are performed in the United States. According to the American Journal of Orthopedics, up to two percent of those prosthetic joints, on average, develop an infection.

Superficial infections that affect the incision, or wound, usually take place anywhere from a few days to up to three months following the surgery. These are usually not serious, but some are linked to infection spreading to or from the prosthetic.

Infection of the tissue surrounding the prosthesis may occur up to two years after surgery, and can cause significant pain. Infection can also damage the new joint, requiring a second replacement.

People with the following conditions are at a greater risk of developing a prosthetic joint infection:

  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Weakened immune system
  • Active infection elsewhere in the body when the surgery is performed
  • Repeat joint replacement
  • Malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous) tumors

A prolonged surgery or prolonged rehabilitation in a communal setting can also raise the risk for prosthetic joint infection.