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Pushing Limits of New Knees

Younger Patients Choose Surgery, Demand Joints That Can Take Jogging, Surfing

Wall Street Journal—April 19, 2011

Joint-replacement patients these days are younger and more active than ever before. More than half of all hip-replacement surgeries performed this year are expected to be on people under 65, with the same percentage projected for knee replacements by 2016. The fastest-growing group is patients 46 to 64, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery.

Many active middle-agers are wearing out their joints with marathons, triathlons, basketball and tennis and suffering osteoarthritis years earlier than previous generations. They're also determined to stay active for many more years and not let pain or disability make them sedentary.

Steven Haas, chief of the knee service at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, says he frequently sees young patients who are in too much pain to play with their kids, take walks, work or enjoy traveling. "To them, the idea of being miserable in their 50s so they might not need another surgery in their 70s doesn't make much sense," he says.

Several studies of hips and knees implanted in patients long ago have found that 85% to 90% are still functioning well after 20 years. Advances in wear-resistant materials may make implants being used today last even longer.

Chris Schubert was kicked by a horse when she was 25, then suffered a near-fatal staph infection from a cortisone shot. Mounting pain and inflammation over the next 14 years forced her to quit recreational horseback riding, interrupted her sleep and interfered with her work as a building contractor. She had minimally invasive knee replacement surgery with Dr. Haas last year, at age 38, and her pain and limitations are gone. "I thought my path in life was set and I'd just be miserable," she says. "I never imagined my life could be this wonderful."



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