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The Future of Joint Replacement Surgery

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, about 500,000 knee replacements and more than 175,000 hip replacements are performed every year, and those numbers are rising. In fact, hip replacements are expected to increase 174 percent over the next 20 years, and knee replacements will rise even more — an incredible 673 percent.

“Historically, when surgeons started performing joint replacements, they were done for patients with end-stage, advanced arthritis,” Dr. Theodore Shybut of Baylor College of Medicine says. “Today there are people who have had their knee replaced that still go to the gym or play tennis. Half of knee replacements are done in people under 65, and most of those people are in the workforce.”

More and more baby boomers are seeking out joint replacement surgeries in an unwillingness to be sedentary or change their lifestyle.

“We have a generation entering their fifties who have been exercising their entire life,” Dr. Claudette M. Lajam of NYU Langone Health says. “If you look at The CrossFit Games, there’s a category for 50 and over.”

A fine-tuned procedure

Another reason for the increase in demand is that joint replacements are getting better.

“The instruments that we use have been fine-tuned, so they’re a little smaller,” Dr. Lajam says. “You’re not disturbing soft tissues as much, and that helps people recover faster. We’ve also learned that giving certain medications right around the time of surgery can help decrease blood loss and bleeding, which also aids in recovery.”

Dr. Shybut adds on to Dr. Lajam’s points. “A few years ago, recovery took a little longer, mainly because we weren’t as aggressive with early management,” he says. “Now, pretty much everyone who has a joint replacement receives therapy while they’re in the recovery room. That changes the game. Patients can stand up as early as three hours after their surgery.”

How to prepare

Is it time for you or a loved one to consider a joint replacement surgery? Dr. Lajam maintains that planning for complications that could arise during or after surgery will help ensure a successful recovery.

“If you’re overweight and can drop a few pounds, do so,” she says. “It will help you recover faster. It helps you participate better in physical therapy and improves outcomes post-op. Even if you can’t walk, you can get into a pool. [Pool exercise] helps improve aerobic capacity so that your heart and lungs work better at the time of surgery, and it will strengthen the muscles you need once you start recovery.”

Talk to your doctor

While joint replacement surgery is generally successful, there are potential risks of which patients should remain mindful.

“Huge improvements have been made in bringing infection rates down,” Dr. Shybut says. “But if you’re that one person out of 200 or 300 that gets infected, your experience will be dramatically different.” Other complications include blood clots, dislocation, and nerve and blood vessel injury.

Ultimately, the best thing a potential joint replacement patient can do is communicate with their doctor.

“[Joint replacements are] different from a cancerous tumor or a blockage in an artery,” Dr. Shybut says. “It’s something that is more functional and quality-of-life oriented, so to some extent, patients are the best judge of when or if they actually need it.”

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