The human framework is a complex web of muscles, joints, tendons and other body parts that function in tandem to power us through our day. Without healthy, functioning joints that work the way we need them to, our quality of life can quickly be compromised.
Joints are where your bones connect to allow functional movements, covered on each end by smooth white tissue called articular cartilage. Healthy, efficient cartilage allows bones to move without much friction or pain, and can endure strong compression forces. But when that articular cartilage becomes damaged, bones begin to rub together, and you feel that friction in your body as arthritis pain.
As patients are living longer and activity levels are increasing even with age, the demand for joint replacement has increased. Patients are younger, but they are also older as the spectrum of ages for procedures is widening. As surgeons and researchers we’re exploring new technologies and improvements in efficiency. While we all want the latest and greatest, it’s important to remember that only time will prove the functionality of new technology.
If joint replacement is in your future, you’ll likely spend some time researching the types of implants and technologies offered. Most important however is spending time researching the surgeon who will perform your operation and ensuring you have an open dialogue about the operation and the implants. Here’s what you should consider:
How is joint replacement technology changing?
With the baby boom generation getting older and a growing active population from childhood on, candidates for hip and knee replacements are of many different ages. More doctors offer surgery for younger patients, because joint replacements are more durable, can help people stay active and get back to work. It can also prevent us from becoming inactive and ward off a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, many surgeons encourage patients to have replacements sooner rather than later, to maintain a productive and satisfying quality of life.
Technology and durability of implants are better now, too. The best technology is always one that is proven, through scientific and clinical research, and patient outcomes. So we have to carefully balance trends in technologies with those that are proven.
What do I need to know about joint replacement technologies?
When you get a joint replacement, you want a product that will last the rest of your life. Because the availability of different technologies is evolving and widening, and it’s easy to come to the conclusion that the newest, flashiest type of implant must be the best. But that’s not necessarily the case.
Think about it: you wouldn’t buy the first car that rolls off the assembly line from a brand new company. You should opt for technology with a proven track record that is also updated each year, at least in some small incremental way. Balancing new with proven technology – good surgery, durable components and appropriate joint rehabilitation – is the way to go when considering joint replacement options. You and your doctor should come to a conclusion together about what is best for you.
What do you expect of your joint replacement patients?
Our world these days seems to zero in on the quick fix. So many people tend to focus on how quickly the surgery can be done, how short the incision can be, where the incision is, and whether the patient can go home the same day. We shouldn’t lose sight of what is really important, which is the long-term durability of joint replacement, particularly in a young patient. In a world that often demands immediate gratification, it’s important to stay focused on those long-term goals even when it’s challenging to do so.
Bryan D. Springer, MD is a surgeon with OrthoCarolina’s Hip and Knee Center and has been named one of America’s Top 22 North American Knee Surgeons.