When you have an arthritic (are-THRIH-tik) or damaged joint removed and replaced with an artificial joint made of plastic or metal, it's called total joint replacement. The bone ends of a joint are covered with a smooth layer called cartilage, which allows nearly frictionless and pain-free movement. However, when your cartilage is damaged or diseased by arthritis, your joints can become stiff and painful. When all attempts to relieve pain and discomfort fail, your doctor may suggest joint replacement. Before you undergo surgery to replace the joint, a thorough physical examination, laboratory tests, and X-rays will reveal the extent of damage to the joint. Although hip and knee replacements are the most common, joint replacement can be performed on other joints, including the ankle, foot, shoulder, elbow, and fingers. Joint replacement surgery is almost always successful and if complications arise they are usually easily treated. In most cases, your surgeon will encourage you to use your new joint shortly after your operation. Following complete hip or knee replacement, you can often stand and begin walking the day after surgery. Most patients have some temporary pain in the replaced joint, but it usually subsides in a few weeks.