Better Fix For a Bum Knee, With Faster Results

FOXNews.com—March 10, 2008

With 78 million baby boomers living in the United States today, staying active has taken a toll on many aging bodies. Each year more than 500,000 knee replacement surgeries are performed.

But depending on the diagnosis from an orthopedic surgeon, patients may qualify for a less invasive procedure that could get them back on their feet a lot quicker.

"Instead of putting a full cap on the knee, which we would do in a total knee replacement, a partial knee replacement is where we only resurface the part that's arthritic," said
Dr. Geoffrey Westrich, director of Joint Replacement Research and an attending Orthopedic Surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. "So it's a partial cap."

Having this partial or uni-compartmental joint replacement procedure is easier on the patient's body and there is a lot less surgery and cutting. "It's a low-risk operation," Westrich told FOXNews.com. "Our anesthesiologists do what's called regional anesthesia. A lot of patients are afraid of getting a general anesthetic but we don't do that. We try not to cut the tendon or split the muscle and so basically there's less trauma with a minimally invasive approach," he added.

This is much more appealing to many, like Westrich's recent patient Nancy Strk, who was injured while on vacation two years ago. Since then, the pain in her knee has been unbearable. "It affected everything. It was 24-7," said Strk. "It was waking me up in the middle of the night. No matter what I did, I had pain."

For this active 59-year-old, there was no doubt in her mind the partial knee replacement surgery Westrich told her about was the way to go. Six weeks after the surgery, Nancy is feeling great and gearing up for spring. "My husband and I already have a plan, we're going upstate (New York) and were going to go hiking which I haven't done in a long time."

There is an estimated 21 million Americans who have osteoarthritis, a disease in which "wear and tear" can cause cartilage to deteriorate. This results in pain and the loss of mobility. When conservative treatment methods fail, such as pain medication and physical therapy, patients with persistent pain often consider joint replacement surgery.

Westrich compared knee replacement surgery to the way a dentist caps a decayed tooth. This procedure entails smoothing out the worn surface of the knee bones and then covering them with a prosthesis, or implant. In the partial knee replacement procedure, only one side of the joint is resurfaced, either the inner part of the knee or the outer. The day after surgery, patients are generally able to put weight on their knee and start to walk. Normal daily activities can take up to two to four weeks after going under the knife.

With baby boomers more active than ever, Westrich expects the number of knee replacement surgeries to rise, and the partial knee procedure just might be a viable and easier option for many patients.

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