Why Are Knee Replacements on the Rise?

New data released by the Centers for Disease Control found that the number of Americans over the age of 45 who underwent knee replacement surgery nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010. The reason behind this dramatic increase can be attributed to two major factors: the rise in obesity and increased life expectancy among Americans.

Knee replacement surgery is one of the most common and most successful types of surgery performed in the United States today. During this procedure, damaged bone and cartilage are removed from the knee, and the joint is replaced with a plastic or metal implant. According to American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, 90 percent of patients who undergo knee replacement surgery experience a significant improvement in their symptoms.

Although knee replacement surgery is generally safe and effective, the procedure is not without risk. Infection and implant failure are possible, and the procedure itself can be quite costly. Figures from 2012 estimate the cost of total knee replacement to be $16,600 per knee.

As the life expectancy and obesity rates of Americans continue to grow, so do the rate of knee replacements. The life expectancy for 65-year-olds increased by 1.5 years between 2000 and 2010, and more than one third of adults in the United States are currently obese. These factors combined can greatly contribute to osteoarthritis, a common cause of knee pain that is often treated with knee replacement surgery (Source: Time).

Knee replacement surgery can be an excellent treatment solution for patients who experience severe pain or loss of function in their knees, but it should only be considered once all non-surgical treatments have been exhausted. These include:

Weight loss – Losing excess weight can take a load off the joints to relieve pain and pressure. Nutritional counseling can be particularly beneficial if exercise is restricted due to knee problems.

Physical activity – Exercise strengthens the muscles surrounding the knee to provide support and relieve pressure. Talk to your doctor about exercises that are safe for your knees.

Knee bracing – Braces promote proper alignment to relieve knee pain. Always wear a brace that has been prescribed by your doctor, and have it fitted by a physical therapist. Never attempt bracing without a doctor’s instructions and supervision.

Corticosteroid injections – These injections reduce inflammation in the knee to alleviate pain and pressure.

Over-the-counter pain relievers – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can relieve pain and swelling, but some studies show that NSAIDs may interfere with the healing process of connective tissues. Talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medications for your knee pain.

Prescription medications – Prescription strength medications can significantly reduce knee pain and inflammation. Talk to doctor about prescription drugs that can improve your knee symptoms (Source: Psychology Today).