Heavier older Americans fuel a billion dollar knee replacement market

October 9, 2015

Knee problems can occur at any age. Seniors in particular, are vulnerable to the knee problems, partly due to the associated physiological changes of aging, and often because they tend to develop some problems with mobility as time goes by.  In fact, knee pain is one of the most common problems affecting millions of people living in the US as well as across the world.  Total Knee Replacement stepsMuscles provide the force and strength to move the body. But as a person ages, there are several changes in the muscles, joints, and bones that affect the posture and walk, and lead to weakness and slowed movement. Technically, the knee replacements are surgical substitutions of a knee joint,  with an artificial joint, or an implant. More and more elderly patients are undergoing knee replacement surgeries so that they can remain independent and active in their later years.

However, the increasing rate of obesity can lead to additional surgeries and more costs in the long run.  It  is more difficult with obese patients, because they have a higher risk of infection, blood clots and wound complications. This number is constantly on the rise.  In 2003 there were 450,000 knee replacement surgeries that jumped up to 700,000 by 2010 and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons estimate that by 2030, the number will go up to nearly 3.5 million. Alternatively, obesity in the older adults also causes serious medical complications and impairs their quality of lives. It can exacerbate the age-related decline in physical function and lead to frailty.

Causes of Knee Pain in the elderly

There are many different factors that could lead to mild, moderate or even severe knee pain. There are several causes of knee pain that a good orthopedic doctor can figure out. One of the leading causes of disability among older men and women is osteoarthritis. It causes the development of symptoms such as pain, swelling, bone spur formation and decreased motion. Some of the most common causes for knee pain are:

  • Injuries:  A person can incur a knee injury while playing sports or engaging in any other form of physical activity, their tendons, ligaments, bursae (fluid filled sacs), bones, muscles and cartilage could all get affected. Some of the most common types of injuries that are known to affect the knee include Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), knee bursitis, torn meniscus and patellar tendinitis.
  • Mechanical Problems: This mainly refers to any type of dislocation in either the bones or cartilage that could lead to a pain and could interfere with the day to day activities. Some of the common mechanical knee problems include dislocated kneecaps, knee locking and pain in the hips. Sometimes a bone or cartilage may get degenerated, break off and float about in the joint space, causing excruciating pain in the knees.
  • Arthritis: There are different types of arthritis that have been known to affect the elderly. This condition leads to a considerable about of pain in the joints, not surprisingly in the knees. Some of the knee pain-causing arthritic conditions include gout, pseudo-gout, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and septic arthritis.
  • Obesity:  A senior is at a much higher risk of suffering from knee problems, in case s/he is overweight. Excess weight increases the amount of pressure applied on to knee joints, even if they only engage in normal day to day activities such as walking, climbing a flight of stairs, descending and so on.
  • Heredity : There is some evidence that genetic mutations may make an individual more likely to have knee issues.
  • Gender : Women who are older than 50 are more likely to have knee issues as compared to the men at 50.
  • Other Health Conditions : There are many other health problems that can make a person more prone to severe knee pain. Some of the most common conditions include Osteochondritis dissecans, chondromalacia patellae and Osgood-Schlatter disease, to name a few. Also, the repeated episodes of gout or septic arthritis and metabolic disorders can also lead to knee problems.

While the knee implants give many recipients a second chance of walking and living a more normal life, complications can occur. Most problematic are the infections, blood clots in the leg vein or lungs, heart attack, stroke, nerve damage, drainage from the surgical site, increased redness, tenderness, swelling and pain in the knee.  Artificial knees can wear out, especially for people with rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes, when there is a higher chance of infection during the weeks following the procedure.  Complications of knee replacement in elderlySome people suffer a reaction to the metal used in the artificial knee joint, for many others, the problem is a loosening of the implant that can be caused by a defective implant or poor positioning at the time of the surgery. Most of the major arteries and veins are rightly behind the knee, there is a risk that these vessels could be damaged.  Although knee replacements have become a common part of the American healthcare system, but it can be avoided by taking care of the overall health like obesity, injuries, lack of strength and limited flexibility to name a few. A total knee replacement surgery is one of the most successful and life-enhancing  surgical procedures. It has made the life of almost 90 percent people normal by allowing them to return to work and enhancing their quality of life and can therefore be regarded as a most valuable procedure for the elderly group who return to a more functional lifestyle post the surgery.

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