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Are Knee Replacements a Good Idea for Younger Populations?

Nov 25, 2014

Researchers advise against knee replacements for younger patients. As such, regenerative medicine may someday provide a solution.

There’s no denying that knee replacement surgery is highly popular. According to the AARP, the number of knee replacements reached a whopping 600,000 per year in 2013, nearly double the number a decade ago. A big factor is that more baby boomers are maintaining active lifestyles as they get older. But there’s a question that is becoming increasingly prominent concerning these surgeries and turning heads toward regenerative medicine: Is the procedure appropriate for younger people?

In the past, total and partial knee replacements were meant for people with severe cases of osteoarthritis, as Dr. Carl Deirmengian, an orthopedic surgeon with the Rothman Institute in Philadelphia, told the AARP.

“Historically we would reserve knee-replacement surgery for people who were really in the end stages of arthritis – those who literally couldn’t walk and had to use a wheelchair,” Deirmengian said. “Today, knee replacement is performed for a younger, more active patient population than previously seen.”

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, knee replacements for patients ages 45 to 64 increased by 205 percent from 2000 to 2015, more than twice the rate of growth among the elderly. The results of such invasive procedures on younger people have suggested that perhaps knee replacement is not an ideal option for non-baby boomers.

What’s the issue with knee replacements?
The artificial joints used to replace degenerated and damaged cartilage are generally made from plastic and metal, and they tend to need replacement after only 10 years. As health writer Gretchen Reynolds wrote in The New York Times in November 2014, studies have found that, due to the relatively short lifespan of knee replacements, this treatment option is best suited for people over the age of 65. Additionally, researchers have claimed that they would only regard older people with severe osteoarthritis (those who cannot walk without an aid or get out of a chair) as appropriate candidates for knee replacement.

As Reynolds wrote in The New York Times, the point here is not that people should wait to get treatment until their knee cartilage deteriorates completely and they are unable to walk. Rather, patients experiencing pain and mobility issues due to arthritis of the knee may want to think twice about recommendations for knee replacement surgery. Ask your doctor just how advanced your osteoarthritis really is, and if you don’t have bone-on-bone arthritis, consider alternative treatments.

“The surgery seems so easy and to promise so much: better mobility, less pain, an approximation, almost, of youth,” Reynolds wrote. “But there is growing evidence that knee-replacement surgery may be too seductive – and that many people considering the procedure would be better served to first try other ways to improve their knees.”

ISTO Technologies is in the midst of developing a potential new solution for regenerating healthy cartilage in the knee. RevaFlex™ is currently in clinical trials, and it may someday be an option for those seeking relief from pain and enhanced mobility without an artificial joint.

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