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Why Has Knee Replacement Surgery Become So Popular?

Why do there seem to be more and more people having knee replacement surgery?

If you are of a certain age, it may seem like everyone you know has either had knee replacement surgery or is considering it. This was not always the case. Not that long ago, joint surgery was such a painful and difficult experience that it was avoided if at all possible. Procedures were known for being extremely invasive and resulting in major trauma, not just to the bone structure, but also to all of the surrounding tissue. Recovery was long and difficult, and the outcome was not always as positive as hoped. This was especially true of knee replacement surgeries. 

The knee is the strongest joint in the body. It has to be because of all of the demands placed on it and the amount of weight it is expected to support. This has always made the recovery process for knee replacement surgery even more challenging than for other joints. 

What has changed? There are currently close to 700,000 knee replacement surgeries done every year, just in the U.S. Why has this procedure gone from “avoid at all costs” to fairly commonplace?

Reasons for Rise in Number of Knee Replacement Surgeries

Basically, there are two explanations for why there are increasingly more knee replacement surgeries being performed. The first is that there is simply a greater demand. The number of knee joints in need of replacement keeps growing because more people are living long enough for that to happen. 

The older we get, the more likely we are to develop arthritis, which is the most common cause of degeneration in the knee joint. This leads to ongoing and increasing pain, as well as impaired mobility. Of the more than a hundred types of arthritis, the top three most likely to lead to the need for knee joint replacement are:

  • Osteoarthritis – known as the “wear and tear” type of arthritis because the cushioning layer of cartilage in the joint breaks down over time resulting in bone on bone contact during movement
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – often referred to as “inflammatory” arthritis, this is when the immune system malfunctions and attacks the knee joint, creating inflammation and pain
  • Post-traumatic arthritis – injuries to the knee often are the cause of arthritis developing, sometimes many years later, and resulting in pain and impaired function

Not only is life expectancy increasing but so is the desire to remain active. Dealing with arthritis by retiring to a rocker on the front porch is no longer acceptable. This has created a huge population of seniors in search of a remedy for knee joint pain and decreased mobility. Often, the answer is joint replacement surgery. 

Maybe the Best Reason for the Growing Popularity of Knee Replacement Surgery

While it is true that joint replacement surgeries, especially those involving the knee, are in more demand because of increased life expectancy, there may actually be another reason that better explains their rising popularity. Surgeons have gotten really good at them!  

Thanks to ongoing innovations and the use of minimally invasive arthroplasty, as well as evolving nanotechnology, total knee replacement surgery has become one of the most successful procedures being performed today. Patients are benefiting from dramatic improvements, both in decreased pain and restoration of mobility, and, at the same time, enjoying a much shorter and less difficult recovery period. In addition, the quality of the joint replacement materials has improved to the point that, after 15 years, over 90% of them are still functioning.  

Patrick A. Meere, M.D., C.M., a board certified, fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon with 20 years of clinical experience in the New York, NY area is a Clinical Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, NYU School of Medicine, the Director of Advanced Arthroplasty Research Laboratory and the Co-Director of the Robotics Center in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the NYU Langone Medical Center. If you have questions about knee or hip replacement surgery, please use our convenient online contact form by clicking here.

Posted in: Knee Replacement

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