Boomers opting for new knees to keep moving

by James Bicos, M.D., Orthopedic Surgeon & Sports Medicine Specialist; voted Top 10 Sports Medicine Surgeons by Sports Illustrated for cartilage issues

knee_replacementNBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams recently announced that he will be taking leave to have knee surgery. He’s certainly not the only one. We are seeing more and more baby boomers (born between the years 1946 and 1964) with cartilage injuries and arthritis. One of the main factors for this is their activity. Williams had a traumatic incident that caused his arthritis many years later. Other people suffer from cartilage (i.e. meniscal) tears that also lead to arthritis later because they lose their shock absorber to their knee.

As technology improves, we are able to offer knee replacements at a younger age. People still need to be aware that a knee replacement is a mechanical piece that can wear down with time, just like any other mechanical piece in a car. Those pieces can break or may need replacement. In addition, arthritis encompasses a broad range of knee issues, from minimal narrowing in the joint to bone on bone. So, not everyone with arthritis qualifies for a knee replacement or should have one.

As the NBC News story suggests, “While the previous generation had to grin and bear it, boomers have a chance to get their knees fixed. And a lot of them are heading for the operating room.”

So, when should you make an appointment with a knee specialist? If you’re experiencing any of the following, it might be the right time to look for help or schedule a knee replacement surgery:

  • Knee pain that wakes you up at night or encompasses most of your activities of daily living and that does not get better with rest, ice, compression or elevation (RICE)
  • Knee swelling
  • Knee locking, grinding or catching
  • X-rays showing bone on bone narrowing.  Often times there are special views that orthopedic surgeons obtain to look for this.  Often times you do NOT need an MRI! In fact, knee replacement arthritis is better seen on x-rays
  • Failing a course of conservative treatment including, anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, cortisone injections or lubricating injections (viscosupplementation)
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