Most people who undergo a knee replacement are between the ages of 50 and 80. The average age is about 70. Nowadays nearly 60 percent of them are women, making Paula Kiessling a typical patient.
“My left knee - I had it replaced the first week in March, and I just had my right knee replaced the first week in June,” says Kiessling.
Her presentation was typical too.
“The pain got so bad that I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t walking correctly, so I went to have x-rays at the doctor’s office and he told me I had no cartilage left in each knee. So it was bone on bone,” says Kiessling.
The fueling force behind her crumbling knees is one of the most common culprits: osteoarthritis.
“Osteoarthritis is the wearing of the articular cartilage of your joints so your shoulders, your hips, your knees all have a smooth articular surface which is frictionless. As the cartilage wears to the bone - that’s the definition of arthritis,” says Dr. Ed Humbert, orthopedic surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
What is different is that doctors are seeing the condition in younger people. And researchers predict that almost one in ten adults in the U.S. will develop osteoarthritis by the time they hit 60.
“Younger patients can definitely get it. If we do knee arthroscopies or do MRIs of knees older than the age of 30, we can find some arthritis in just about every knee. Just because you have it doesn’t mean it’s going to cause symptoms enough to want any kind of treatment,” says Dr. Humbert.
In addition to a genetic factor, osteoarthritis is linked to activity levels and previous injuries. The good news for knees: early warning signs may help people delay or avoid joint replacement.
“Knee replacement is a last resort for someone with arthritis. We have alternative methods where we do anti-inflammitories, we can try physical therapy to strengthen the knee. In younger patients that have arthritis there are ways we can try to help regenerate the cartilage that wasn’t there,” says Dr. Humbert.
By acting early osteoarthritis sufferers may avoid a typical outcome.