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    Hip and Knee Replacements on the Rise

    More women and men are turning to artificial joints for a second lease on an active life.

    Why is the demand for knee replacements so much higher than for hips?

    We're harder on our knees, Bostrom says, while at the same time doctors have learned to take better care of hips. "A lot of the pathology we used to see in hips was due to not recognizing early hip disease in infancy," he explains. "Now that we've gotten better at screening for hip dysplasia, those indications for hip replacement have declined markedly.

    "Meanwhile," he notes, "we're beating up our knees more. There are a whole group of people who've had meniscal tears and ligament tears due to athletic activities. Even if that damage has been treated, it may still cause a problem long-term."

    Will we face a shortage of artificial joints in the future?

    Unfortunately, the demand for joint replacement surgery may soon outpace the availability. There are plenty of artificial joints -- no shortage there. But there may not be enough qualified surgeons to implant them. Fewer medical students and residents are going into orthopedic surgery, says Bostrom, and joint replacement is not that popular a subspecialty within the field. "Many people would rather go into spine and sports medicine, which are much more lucrative," he says. "There's clearly going to be a lack of qualified people doing joint replacements, there's no doubt about that."

    A look back at the projected growth in joint replacement surgery backs him up. Another study presented at the 2006 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons' meeting compared the number of anticipated surgeries with the number of surgeons expected to be available in 2010, 2020, and 2030. In two years, it found, the mean annual caseload per surgeon will be about 52 surgeries annually. By 2030, the annual caseload should triple to 167.

    But career paths often veer to meet a huge demand, and it's possible interest in orthopaedic surgery will increase as demand grows. If not? Expect to plan your joint replacement a few months -- or even a year -- in advance.

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    Reviewed on November 27, 2007

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