Is it real or artificial? Advances in technology make joint replacements more common

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As life expectancy continues to lengthen, the good news is that we are living longer and enjoying more time with our loved ones. The bad news is that not all of our major joints were designed to last as long as we need them to, and years of wear and tear can take their toll. But advances in medical technology have made joint surgery much more commonplace for patients of all ages.

Joint surgeries have grown exponentially in recent years, and some experts predict that the number of joint surgeries may double in next 20 years. Baby boomers are coming of age, and that trend combined with improved technology has led to more and more procedures. Younger patients suffering with arthritic hips and knees are now getting them replaced at an earlier age. Improvements in implant technology and surgical techniques are providing more longevity and durability for patients.

We have also seen advances in computer-assisted surgery and custom-fit knee replacements, which involve the development of implants and surgical cutting guides based on a patient’s specific MRI. In custom fit surgery, many of the surgical decisions are made ahead of time based on the pre-operative scan, resulting in less invasive surgery.

Other advances that have come about have to do with faster recovery. Patients are in the hospital for only two to three days before being discharged to home or a skilled nursing facility. They are up and walking same day as surgery or the next, putting all their weight on the new hip or knee. They can return to their daily activities more quickly, whether it’s walking, working, biking, hiking, fishing, golfing or skiing — within a couple months.

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Joint replacement is a quality of life decision. When you have pain in a hip or knee on a daily basis and non-operative measures are no longer helping it may be time to think about joint replacement. Make sure you know all the options available to you. Start by talking to your own doctor and get a physical exam.

Your doctor can refer you for a surgical consult and x-rays to pinpoint the cause of the pain. A surgical consultation does not always require a referral. Check with your insurance carrier regarding their requirements for coverage.

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