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Aging, Active Baby Boomers Push Demand for Knee Replacements
May 04, 2006
By: Jean Johnson for Knee1
“Five to 10 years ago, people who were in their 70s would think they were maybe too old for a joint replacement. Now you never hear that,” orthopedic surgeon at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, David Stulberg, M.D., told the Chicago Tribune. “People have become more comfortable that these things are going to last a long time, even when used for aggressive activities.”
At issue, mainly, is the “Me Generation’s” active, healthy lifestyle. Better educated than any generation in history and affluent as well, baby boomers took Bob Dylan’s ‘may you stay forever young’ to heart long ago. As those who came of age in the 60s went through their young adulthood and middle age, they broke the barriers set by those who had gone before. Hiking, skiing, rafting, mountain climbing, biking, yoga – the list of newly popular active sports goes on.
Supply and Mega-Demand
Why did Forbes magazine cover this consumer health story? Because demand is expected to exceed supply, according to a new study presented in late March 2006 at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery in Chicago.
As Forbes put in, “The study projected that the number of first-time total knee replacements would soar by 673 percent, to 3.48 million, by 2030, while the number of first-time total hip replacements would increase by 174 percent to 572,000. Partial joint replacements are projected to increase by 54 percent in the next 25 years.”
Forbes also noted that, while currently hips are done more than knees, by 2007 knee replacements will take the lead.
A quick glance down at your knees is all it takes to be reminded that they do yeoman service in carrying around the weight of your body, not to mention the pounding they take during aggressive use.
So, in addition to the baby boomer’s generation tendency to jog, ski, bike and generally put significant strain on the knee joint, there is the current epidemic of being overweight and obese to consider.
Think about it. Every extra pound of fat riding on your frame has to get toted around by the knees.
Joint Replacement Surgery – Finite Relief
A National Institutes of Health report from 2003 notes that 9 out of 10 patients with artificial knees get fast relief from pain and improved mobility.
“I know since my husband had his knee replacement, we’ve been able to go and do [things] again – not that he’s considering skiing or anything like that,” said Annette Johnson of Portland, Ore.
“But we did go down to Colorado just driving last spring – bumming around and checking out the towns and the restaurants. Actually we probably did a little too much checking out the restaurants because my husband could stand to take off a good 30 pounds at least. But he’s always been stocky. A chunky kind of guy.”
“There are few procedures that return as much quality of life as joint replacement,” study author Steven M. Kurtz, research associate professor at Drexel University’s School of Biomedical Engineering in Philadelphia, told Forbes.
That said, Kurtz noted that “patients need to be aware that while artificial joint replacements are successful, they don’t last forever… If you are 50 or 60 when you undergo your first surgery, you should expect to undergo a revision surgery” since most replaced joints currently last only around 10 years.
Osteoarthritis is a condition where cartilage – which serves as padding for joints – deteriorates causing stiffness and pain as the bones of a joint begin to rub against each other as someone moves. Almost 21 million people have osteoarthritis, and the Arthritis Foundation indicates that the knee and hip joints are the most common areas of complaint. Thus, when pain becomes too severe or mobility compromises to a great extent, people often opt for surgery to replace the joint in question.
Costs Expected to Soar Along with Demand
Along with the mega-increase in demand for knee and hip replacements comes concern about rising costs.
“There’s always been this concern that with the baby boomer population aging, we were going to overwhelm the system that provides medical care,” Mark Hutchinson, M.D., professor of orthopedics and sports medicine at the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago told the Tribune. “Our medical care is already costing more and more, and yet we’re looking at a significant increase in the future.”
Artificial joints can run from $30,000 to $50,000 depending on where and by whom they are placed. More, according to the Tribune, “orthopedic surgeons already are the top users of hospital operating rooms [and Hutchinson said that] at hospitals like UIC, which care for a significant percentage of public aid patients, artificial joint implants are performed at a loss to the hospitals.”
Baby Boomer Comment
“Artificial joints?” said Kenton Smith of Berkeley, Calif. “Forgive me, if I make the observation that we baby boomers much preferred another type of joint.”
The Rolling Stones new album plays from Smith’s stereo, and the silver-haired hipster sways to Mick Jagger’s belted out lyrics. “Many of us still do.
“But seriously,” Smith said, “I don’t know. Why so many of us baby boomers were hard on our joints is beyond me. Everyone has seen those slow-motion pictures of what happens to your knees when you jog on pavement. And anyone that uses their knees like high-test shock absorbers on a downhill run full of moguls is nuts.
“I mean, come on people! And I haven’t even started in about folks that pack the pounds around. What gives with them, anyway? They think they can eat more than their share without paying the consequences?”
Even teased about getting on his soap box, Smith won’t be deterred. “The point is that arthritis aside, this joint replacement thing sounds like a behavioral problem to me. I say baby boomers should consider taking it easy on their joints. Even things like getting into a car back end first can save your knees.”
Smith does soften some, though, when the Stones crank up yet another excellent tune. “If boomers need a thrill, they ought to check out this new Stones album. The Rolling Stone featured Mick Jagger on its cover last September and called the cuts on this album the Stone’s best in 20 years.”
| Prevent knee problems by:|
First warm up by walking or riding a stationary bicycle, then do stretches before exercising or participating in sports. Stretching the muscles in the front of the thigh (quadriceps) and back of the thigh (hamstrings) reduces tension on the tendons and relieves pressure on the knee during activity.
Strengthen the leg muscles that benefit the knee.
Avoid sudden changes in the intensity of exercise. Increase the force or duration of activity gradually.
Wear shoes that both fit properly and are in good condition to help maintain balance and leg alignment when walking or running.
Knee problems may be caused by flat feet or overpronated feet (feet that roll inward). People can often reduce some these problems by wearing special shoe inserts (orthotics).
Maintain appropriate weight to reduce stress on the knee. Obesity increases the risk of degenerative (wearing) conditions such as osteoarthritis of the knee.
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