Many Americans suffer from knee pain that affects their daily lives. Knee pain is usually caused by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or damage from a traumatic accident. For some people, treating knee problems with joint replacement surgery is a viable option. This is especially true if other treatments have not provided sufficient relief.
Knee replacement can restore mobility and improve a patient’s quality of life. However, a research study done by Northwestern Medicine reports that most people wait too long to have the procedure done. Some patients are also cautioned against having the surgery too early. What is the best age for knee replacement surgery? That answer depends on multiple factors.
Who is a Candidate for Knee Replacement?
Knee replacement is not a solution for everyone suffering from one of the above conditions. There are not any set age or weight restrictions on who can undergo the surgery. Before surgical intervention is recommended, other less invasive treatments like anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone injections, and physical therapy should be explored. However, many people do benefit from the procedure and your doctor may recommend it if:
- Your knee pain limits every day activity
- Stiffness in the knee limits your mobility
- You have moderate to severe knee pain while you’re resting
- There is a deformity in the knee
- Other treatments have not worked well enough
What Happens During a Total Knee Replacement?
There are four basic steps involved in a knee replacement procedure.
- The bone is prepared by removing damaged cartilage from the ends of the femur and tibia. A small amount of the bone beneath the damaged cartilage is also removed.
- Metal implants are inserted to replace the removed cartilage and bone to recreate the joint’s surface.
- The patella, or kneecap, is resurfaced. This step may be skipped depending on the specific case.
- A spacer made of medical-grade plastic is inserted between the metal components on the femur and tibia. This plastic spacer creates a smooth surface for the new artificial joint to glide on.
Concerns About Having a Knee Replacement Too Soon
Sometimes a patient is considered too young for a knee replacement because benefits may be minimal. This is because the implant used in the procedure can wear out in younger patients and the knee’s function will decline again. Younger people who get joint replacement surgery are cautioned against participating in certain physical activities that can cause more wear and tear on the replacement.
Usually, a patient under 50 is considered “young” for a total knee replacement. However, more people in this age group have been having knee replacement surgery in recent years. Studies have shown good outcomes in the majority of these patients. According to the Northwestern Medicine study, only 25% of patients have knee surgery prematurely. This information has made many people question the best age for knee replacement surgery.
Why Delaying Surgery is Not a Good Idea
As cited in the Northwestern Medicine study, 90% of patients who could benefit from knee replacement wait too long to have it done. According to research, there are two drawbacks to waiting too long to have the surgery:
- Osteoarthritis causes deterioration and limits mobility. Loss of mobility means that the patient might not be able to exercise or get enough physical activity. That can lead to other health problems related to being sedentary. People dealing with chronic pain and mobility issues are also at a higher risk of becoming depressed. Quality of life decreases and health risks increase.
- Once the patient does have the knee replacement, there is less benefit. When knee replacement is delayed, people do not get as much function back as they would have if they’d had the surgery sooner. Mobility will still be limited after recovery for those who wait too long.
When is the Right Time?
So, what is the best age for knee replacement surgery? Unfortunately, there is no answer that applies to all patients. The timing of a knee replacement should be based on a kind of algorithm that takes age, pain, and joint function into account to determine the potential benefits.
If you think you’re a candidate for knee replacement, then you should talk to an orthopedic surgeon. They can evaluate your condition and help you determine when the ideal time to have the procedure would be. At South Shore Orthopedics, our team includes board-certified orthopedic surgeons specializing in joint replacement. To find out if you could benefit from a joint replacement procedure, call us at (781) 337-5555 to make an appointment.