Our aim was to determine the pre-operative sporting profiles of patients undergoing primary joint replacement and to establish if they were able to return to sport after surgery. A postal survey was completed by 2085 patients between one and three years after operation. They had undergone one of five operations, namely total hip replacement, hip resurfacing, total knee replacement, unicompartmental knee replacement or patellar resurfacing. In the three years before operation 726 (34.8%) patients were participating in sport, the most common being swimming, walking and golf. A total of 446 (61.4%) had returned to their sporting activities by one to three years after operation and 192 (26.4%) were unable to do so because of their joint replacement, with the most common reason being pain. The largest decline was in high-impact sports including badminton, tennis and dancing. After controlling for the influence of age and gender, there was no significant difference in the rate of return to sport according to the type of operation.