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Return-to-Work Rate High After Knee Replacement

Most physically active laborers get back on the job

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Each year, more than 650,000 people in the United States undergo knee replacement, according to the academy. That's twice the number performed a decade ago, Tongue said.

"Thirty years ago, people were scared to death of having this operation, but it is so effective that more people are getting it now," he said. "Their general health depends on it, and many are choosing to have it sooner than before. They are fighting for their mobility."

Orozco said half of his knee-replacement patients are under age 50.

"We are now reaching a population that is younger and actively working. Most have very arthritic knees and expect to go back to work," Orozco said. Better implant materials that support more weight, improved surgical techniques that spare muscle, and better post-surgery patient care plans -- including pain management and physical therapy -- have increased the popularity of knee replacement in recent years, he said.

"Now patients are back at work in a matter of weeks, compared to the past when it took months sometimes," Orozco said.

The surgery costs about $35,000, including the implants, hospital stay and post-procedure physical therapy, and it is typically covered by insurance -- but it depends on a patient's plan, Orozco said.

After surgery, Orozco said there is no reason patients shouldn't get back to activities they previously enjoyed, including sports.

"I recommend to my patients to return to what [they] love to do," he said. However, he advises obese patients to consider weight loss.

Study author Lombardi said it's rewarding to follow up with patients after their surgery.

"To see these patients with crippling arthritis in the knee be able to walk and move again -- it's amazing," he said. "We can restore them back to a very active and pain-free lifestyle."

Data and conclusions presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

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