Joint Replacement, Second Time Around: March 19, 2012

Once considered a last ditch operation for the elderly, getting a hip or knee joint replacement is getting hipper with a younger crowd.

“I think the age of knee replacements is coming down. I’d say 20 years ago very few people would attempt to do younger joint replacements, which is 20s and 30s and 40 year olds and even in the 50s,” says Dr. Ed Humbert, an orthopedic surgeon on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

Ramona West was 54 when she had the first of two knee replacements.

“The arthritis kicked in when I was 40 and by the time I was in my early fifties my right knee was, I mean I had nothing, no cartilage left.”

In the ten years between 1998 and 2008 hip replacements were up 78%, with 40% of patients between the ages of 45 and 64. Knee replacements are far more common and are also trending younger.

“Why make somebody wait until they’re 65 and they’re on Medicare when they can have an extra ten or fifteen years of being able to walk?” says West.

Whether patients know it or not, their new joint are living on borrowed time. Artificial joints have an expected lifespan of fifteen to twenty years.

“Unfortunately down the road this knee or hip wears out where the parts tend to loosen or the plastic liners tend to wear out,” says Dr. Humbert,

It prompts a number of patients in their golden years to undergo a joint revision.

“We necessarily don’t have to change the whole implant, we can change the isolated parts that have loosened or have worn out and leave the good part behind,” says Dr. Humbert.

The possibility of a future joint revision isn’t slowing Ramona down.

“I wouldn’t trade this mobility for the world.”