HealthWatch: Easing Arthritis

WCBS-TV 2—August 4, 2009

We are in the middle of an arthritis epidemic, and as baby boomers get older, it's only going to get worse, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

It adds up to more than $128 billion in healthcare costs. Much of it spent on total joint replacements. But CBS 2's Dr. Max Gomez is here to tell us that there are some steps short of total joint replacement that can ease the pain.

Though total joint replacements work very well at getting rid of the pain, they may make getting full function back difficult, especially for more active people.

It used to be that once you developed advanced osteoarthritis, there wasn't much else doctors had to offer. That's now changing.

Craig Buchalter is a pretty active guy. The Long Island physical education teacher loves to hike in the Grand Canyon and take long distance bike rides. So a little stationary bike workout wasn't much of a challenge, until a few months ago.

"Whether I was sitting, standing, driving, sleeping, it didn't matter. The pain was just continuous and it really felt like someone had taken a match and put it under my knee cap and into my calf," said Buchalter.

The problem was osteoarthritis in his hip. Craig had worn out the cartilage in his hip joint.

"There should be a space between the ball and the socket," said Dr. Geoffrey Westrich of Hospital for Special Surgery. "The space is cartilage, which is good, but in this particular patient there is no space, it's bone on bone."

Normally Craig's only option would be a total hip replacement, but Dr Westrich offered him something called hip resurfacing. Instead of taking out the entire hip joint and replacing it with plastic, ceramic and metal parts, Dr. Westrich just put a new socket and cap on the joint. Similar operations are being done for knees, resurfacing just the part of the knee that's arthritic.

"The big advantage of the partial replacement is that we preserve more of the normal anatomy of the joint and people have better function because they're keeping a lot more of their ligaments and more of their bone," said Dr. Westrich.

Craig had his hip resurfaced and he's back to swimming and biking. He hopes to soon be back hiking the steepest trails out west.

"I feel terrific. I mean, I don't have that arthritic pain," said Craig. "It was completely gone about three or four days after the surgery, which was wonderful."

So these sorts of resurfacing, partial replacements, or something called an osteotomy take care of the pain and help maintain more normal function.

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