If your mother or grandmother had a knee or hip replacement, the odds are good she was in her late 60s or 70s when she opted for the surgery, and it was a "last resort" decision -- either get a new knee or start using a cane or a wheelchair.
That's not today's joint replacement surgery. With the baby boom generation hitting their 60s -- the age at which joints start to hurt and ultimately give out -- more and more people are seeking knee and hip replacements to maintain their active lifestyle.
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"It used to be about doing the things you needed to do -- literally, being able to walk," says David Mayman, MD, clinical co-director of the computer-assisted surgery center at New York's Hospital for Special Surgery. The hospital is world-renowned for orthopedic surgery and pioneered the first total knee replacement.
"Now, patients are coming to see us saying, 'I can't do the things I want to do. I can't play golf or tennis anymore.' We're seeing more and more patients in their 50s and even some in their 40s," he tells WebMD. "Where these people used to wait and try to hold out another year or two or five, now they just want to get it done and get on with their lives."
Joint Replacements in Women
Arthritis is the leading cause of joint replacements. And because women have higher rates of arthritis than men, some 60% of joint replacement surgeries are performed on women.
The demand from women has even sparked a whole new industry in "gender-specific joint replacement," with several companies offering knees that purport to be designed for a woman's anatomy.
Whether a "woman's knee" is markedly better than a knee that works for men or women is debatable, says Mayman. "There are some anatomical differences between men's and women's joints, but geometrically, they're very similar," he says. "I don't know that the literature suggests any better outcomes with gender-specific replacements. But these devices do highlight the fact that there are different types of joint replacements, and anatomically, you need one that fits your bone."
Is a Joint Replacement Right for You?
Before you can start shopping for a new knee or hip, though, you should be thinking about whether joint replacement surgery is right for you. Here are three questions to ask yourself before plunging into surgery:
What activities do you really want to return to?
Is arthritis currently a daily burden that limits your activities, or just something that bothers you periodically?
How prepared are you to be actively involved in your recovery?
"When your lifestyle starts changing because of your hip or your knee, and there are things you enjoy doing that you can no longer do, that's the time to start thinking about the surgery," says Mayman.