Osteoarthritis is a cruel mistress. It is the wearing away of the connective tissue – or cartilage – within a joint over time. Because cartilage prevents one bone from scraping against another, acting as a shock absorber during movement, once that cartilage is gone or diminished, what you have left is bone on bone contact and pain. Even the most active person is not exempt, because osteoarthritis can be the result of natural wear and tear on the joints caused by use. Heredity also plays a strong role. While osteo-arthritis can be caused or worsened by injury or inflammatory conditions, the primary cause of osteoarthritis by far is a person’s genetic makeup.
If you are suffering from knee pain, you are not alone. Research indicates that up to 30 percent of adults live with some osteoarthritis in one or both knees. Until the age of 50, the condition is equally common in men and women, but after 50, the prevalence for osteo-arthritis in women increases. Well-Being reached out to Dr. Donald Baker, orthopedic surgeon who serves on the medical staff of Merit Health Central, Merit Health Rankin, and Merit Health River Oaks, about options for knee pain sufferers who want to stay active as they age.
Options for Treating Osteoarthritis Knee Pain According to Dr. Baker, early treatments for osteo-arthritis pain often consist of weight loss programs, anti-inflammatory medications, and injection therapies to help supplement the lost cartilage and minimize pain. When these remedies are no longer sufficient, and the patient’s quality of life is at risk, knee replacement is often the next step – and is surprisingly common.
There are currently more than 700,000 knee replacement surgeries performed each year in the U.S. Statistics suggest that this number will rise to a staggering 3.5 million cases annually by the year 2030.
“Candidates for knee replacement surgery have traditionally been those suffering from significant pain and limited mobility due to osteoarthritis,” says Baker. “But as patients become increasingly active in their 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s, we are continually challenged to develop and provide new and better clinical solutions. Most patients are no longer content with just being able to walk without pain at age 70 – now they demand strong and flexible joints that allow them to hike, bike and play tennis.”
Partial Knee vs. Total Knee Replacement While partial knee replacement surgeries have been around for many years, they used to be reserved for older patients who lived mostly sedentary lifestyles. Now, partial knee replacement is often preferred in younger patients, as their recovery is quicker and with much less pain. It’s estimated that about 1 in 20 patients with arthritic knees are eligible for partial knee procedures.
“There are three compartments of the knee joint, but the inner – or medial – area is the most likely to experience cartilage breakdown,” Baker notes. “When arthritis is present in only one of the joint’s compartments, and it doesn’t respond to non-surgical treatments, the patient may be a good candidate for partial knee replacement, offering them less pain, as well as a shorter hospital stay and quicker recovery time than a full replacement. Partial knee replacement can be done on an outpatient basis or with just an overnight stay, compared to a 2 – 3 night stay with a total joint replacement.”
“When deciding on any surgical treatment plan, your surgeon will give consideration to your current health status and complication risks, your lifestyle and its physical demands, and your ability to coordinate the down time and therapy you will need for recovery in post-surgery. Also keep in mind that while the damage in one compartment of your knee is corrected, you will have continued wear in the other compartment that may lead to the need for further surgery. You should be fully open with your doctor about these issues, so he or she can identify whether a full or partial knee procedure is the safest and most beneficial path for you,” Baker adds.
What you should know before a partial knee replacement surgery If you decide to proceed with a partial knee replacement, be sure to ask your surgeon these five questions:
“Whether you decide on a full or partial replacement of your knee joint, be sure you have considered and shared with your surgeon all of your concerns, expectations and current medical issues,” Baker advises. “Both operations have excellent outcomes, and millions of people worldwide have found their lives dramatically improved, thanks to joint replacement surgery.”
Donald Baker, M.D., Orthopaedic Surgeon, is a member of the medical staff at Merit Health Central, Merit Health Rankin and Merit Health River Oaks. He received his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and completed his Orthopedic Residency at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. Dr. Baker specializes in shoulder and knee arthroscopy and hip & knee replacement.