Do you need a new hip or knee? About 1 million Americans each year have these common joint replacement surgeries. Technology is helping make joint replacements easier and quicker to recover from, with joints made from longer-lasting new materials. As a result, more people—including those of younger ages—are having these operations than ever before. Here's a look at how advances in tools and techniques might make a difference in your joint replacement operation. New Technologies and Techniques A host of new approaches, procedures and materials are being used in joint replacement surgery today. These may result in shorter hospital stays, easier recoveries, and more enduring joints. Some advances include: Robot-assisted surgery In order for your new hip, knee or other joint to work properly, you’ll want the artificial joint (called an implant) to fit properly. Surgeons can use computer-aided and robot-assisted tools to help make sure the joint is sized and aligned accurately. For example, a robotic guidance system can help surgeons align implants within fractions of a millimeter. Recent studies have shown robotic-assisted knee and hip replacement surgeries were more accurate than non-robotic surgeries in controlling implant positioning, fit, and other surgical variables. However, large studies comparing patient outcomes and implant longevity are needed in order to justify the increased costs of robotic equipment and training, researchers say. 3D technology 3D technology can be used to map your joint, based on a CT or MRI scan. Sometimes this is done to help provide a more precise cutting guide for your orthopedic surgeon. It can also be used to help create a 3D printed implant, which can be customized to precisely fit your joint. In the future, surgeons may be able to create their own 3D replacement knee parts. For example, researchers at Duke University are developing a synthetic gel that matches human cartilage in strength and elasticity. In one experiment, the researchers used a $300 3D printer to create menisci (knee cartilage) for a plastic knee joint. Improved joint materials New, stronger plastic and ceramic implants may last much longer than previous materials, with fewer adverse effects. One newer type of plastic now being used is called highly cross-linked polyethylene. This type can be stabilized in vitamin E, which prevents oxidation once it's inside your body, which should help it last longer. Techniques and procedures One newer approach to hip surgery is to do the procedure from the front, using a special table during surgery to position your hip. This "anterior" procedure allows your doctor to avoid cutting muscles around your hip and uses a smaller incision, resulting in a shorter hospital stay, faster recovery, and less post-surgical pain. Another new surgical technique showing promise is biological hip joint replacement, in which donated bone and cartilage are used to form a joint rather than using metal or plastic. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia found they could use larger grafts with beveled edges to fit the joint area more precisely. The researchers tested the method on dogs and found this helped the new joint last longer, with less cell death during implementation. Higher Rates of Joint Replacement Today, more people between the ages of 45 and 64 are undergoing joint replacement. People are living longer, more active lives, and don't want to be restricted by arthritis or other painful, disabling conditions. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of people 45 to 54 having hip replacements soared 205%, from 17,000 to 51,900. Overall, the number of hip replacements more than doubled (from 138,700 to 310,800). Knee replacements also are being done in younger people; half of patients are under 65, with the mean age for a total knee replacement falling from 68.9 to 66.2 between 2000 and 2010. Other joints are increasingly being replaced, too, such as shoulders, ankles, wrists and even knuckles. Meanwhile, research is continuing into new materials, procedures and alternatives to joint replacement altogether, such as using stem cell treatments to help repair joints without requiring surgery. Large research studies have yet to determine which methods, materials and techniques are most effective, particularly among newer technologies. Your doctor will be your best resource for discussing your options and determining the best choice for your joint care.