A Revealing Look at Knee Replacement

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A Revealing Look at Knee ReplacementWe don’t often talk surgery at Doctors Health Press, but when there are huge population trends, it’s helpful to know what is going on all around us. Here’s a story on the upswing of total knee replacement surgery in the U.S. and what this thing is all about.

It is a very common, safe surgery used to relieve severe pain and disability caused by knee osteoarthritis, thus improving quality of life. While common, it is also pricey—at about $15,000 a pop. The study found that there are 600,000 total knee replacements a year in the U.S., leading to a total cost of $9.0 billion. Not pocket change.

In any event, researchers looked at trends in total knee replacement surgery throughout the 90s and the last decade. They found a huge swell in the number of surgeries, caused by more older Americans and a greater desire for knees that withstand the effects of aging. Among adults over 65, the surgery rate has doubled over 20 years.

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One thing is that it is effective. The surgery is well-tolerated and permits older adults to keep a more active lifestyle. That is an important point, as exercise into one’s twilight years is well-known to help you live longer.

Studying millions of Medicare patients over 65, researchers found that the number of first-time total knee replacement surgeries went from 93,230 in 1991 to 243,802 in 2010. That is a spike from 31.2 surgeries per 10,000 people to 62.1. For people who needed a follow-up total knee replacement surgery, the numbers increased by 60% over that same 20 years.

We are seeing the length of time one stays in hospital for total knee replacement surgery dropping, specifically, from eight days in 1991 to four days in 2010. But, it has caused an uptick in patients being readmitted after discharge (because something is wrong). The researchers say that you should know you will be discharged within a few days after surgery, but you may have to be readmitted at some point.

So what is this procedure, exactly? First, it is for a person whose knee joint has severe damage, with pain and limited function. Surgeons replace your joint with artificial material. The end of the thighbone is equipped with a metal shell and the end of the lower leg bone has a plastic piece with a metal stem. It all fits together to provide a range of motion just like a healthy knee. The artificial bits are called the prosthesis.

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