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Posted on in Orthopedics

“Take a Knee” Baby Boomers Boost Total Joint Replacement

Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – watched their parent’s age and decided that an inactive middle age wasn’t for them.  Golfing, biking, tennis, basketball, running, skiing – 50 became the new 40, 60 became the new 50...or was it the new 40? Those Boomers just wouldn’t stop moving -- until their knees and hips started aching. Now hitting 60+, the joints are aching more and the body parts are wearing out. 

Arthritis, compounded by wear-and-tear on knees and hips, has sparked a sharp jump in the number of total joint replacements.  Osteoarthritis is the most common reason that joints fail.  It is a degenerative disease that deteriorates the cushioning cartilage in joints, leaving bone grinding on bone. Ironically, the repetitive motion of exercise by Boomers trying to stay fit can actually trigger the arthritis. 

As a result, Boomers have accounted for nearly 40% of the total knee or total hip replacements in the last few years, a shift from days when most surgeries were performed on those over 65.

“The change is partially due to a generation trying to stay active and fit,” says Dr. Barry Clark of Pee Dee Orthopaedic Associates. “However, improvements in joints, materials and surgical technique are other reasons that more people are seeking relief with total joint replacement surgery.”

The joint replacement’s limited life span steered surgeons to refrain from surgery until a patient’s pain or mobility was severely restricted.  In those days, most replacement candidates were 65 or over.  Today, pain relief may be a factor but patients are also seeking what one surgeon described as “long-term, post-operative performance.”  In other words, they want to get back to biking and golfing. 

Current joint replacement materials include titanium, plastics, and cobalt-chrome alloys.  They last longer and provide greater range of motion than earlier models. Some of the models are so new that it is difficult to determine how long they will last. For instance, one device manufacturer is now offering a “30-year” joint.  It may be 30 years until we know if the promises of durability are fulfilled.

Tips to Help Extend the Life of Your Knees

Whether you’re trying to extend the life of the knee and hip joints you were born with – or trying to make your total joint replacement last as long as possible, here are a few tips.

  • Control your weight. Obesity is a major health problem in the country, leading to diabetes, heart and – yes – joint problems. The heavier a person is the more pressure they exert on knee and hip joints. One study reported that 65% of the total joint replacement patients under 65 were obese.
  •  Exercise – but avoid high impact activities, such as jogging, aerobics or racquetball.  Instead, choose biking or, if you want to play tennis, choose doubles.

Final Thought.  The bad news is that our joints won’t last forever.  In fact, they may not have been made to last as long as we are now living.  The good news: with developments in materials and surgical techniques, total joint surgery can extend your active lifestyle for many years.

To find a physician, click here.  

Sources include: McLeod Health, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, Arthritis Foundation, American Council on Science & Health, University of Massachusetts Department

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