About The Knee
Senior healthcare nowadays is very much focused on mobility, quality of life and feeling productive. Where does the humble knee fit in to the picture?
Our knees allow us to bend our legs and straighten them. Since we rely on our knees for so much mobility, the knee is also at risk for injury, wear and tear due to age, inflammatory and septic arthritis.
There is knee replacement surgery for seniors, in the main, to replace the knee. For sufferers this surgery has become very popular with the number of knee replacements that are performed in the US standing at 700,000 procedures a year. Seniors are not the only ones who choose to do surgery. Knee replacement can be performed for all ages, other than children since their bones are still growing.
Knee replacement or knee arthroplasty (which means replacement of a joint or the reconstruction of a joint through surgery) involves replacement of worn or damaged parts of the knee with quality artificial parts.
Let’s discuss the structure of the knee.
The top bone of the knee is called the femur. The lower part of the leg has two bones called the tibia and fibula. The place where the action happens (the movement) is at the point where these bones meet. Due to wear and tear or other reasons, such as arthritis, if the surfaces of these bones get worn out, pain and/or swelling could set in.
Why do a Knee Replacement?
- First assess whether surgery is really needed: The medical staff might see if the pain can be overcome by losing weight, performance of exercise or physical therapy, prescription medicines or injections such as corticosteroid injections or injections that supplement the fluid in the knee.
- Surgery may be recommended: if mobility is reduced because the joint is worn out, and a person feels pain even when they are resting.
- Osteoarthritis: This is the most common reason for knee replacement surgery and the most common perpetrator of joint pain on people over the age of 50 and under 80 years of age.
- Functionality and mobility: Surgery will hopefully restore functioning of the knee and have relieve the pain. The person can generally expect to be more mobile once they recover from the surgery: to walk better or climb stairs more easily than they could before.
- Occurrence of a Meniscus Tear: This is an injury that occurs when the meniscus, the cartilage in between the femur and the tibia, either tears (causing a traumatic meniscal tear) or wears out due to a combination of age, arthritis and/or strain due to overwork of the meniscus (causing a degenerative meniscal tear), common in people over the age of 40. Traumatic meniscal tears are usually treated with surgery, while a degenerative meniscal tears are not.
FYI There are studies that show that for joint replacement surgery to be successful people should look for a surgeon who has performed several knee replacement surgeries (more than 6 per year) and for a hospital that has likewise performed numerous replacements.
Other Things to take into Consideration
Knee replacement is recommended for people who really are in a lot of pain or are not functioning because of the knee pain.
Where possible, doctors recommend that people should wait or delay the surgery since some of the replacement parts can wear out over time and a repeat surgery 15-20 years down the line is something everyone wants to avoid. For this reason knee replacement surgery is usually recommended for people over the age of 50 years.
As Alexander Pope said “Hope springs eternal”. There is always hope that new medicines will be approved, or new materials will be invented, especially in the rapidly-advancing and commercially-driven world of medicine, and thus the surgery will be avoided.
It might not be the perfect cure that was hoped for. Some people get a stiff knee after doing the surgery for knee replacement and some cannot straighten the leg and bend the knee as they would like to. Physical therapy and walking will help. The medical staff will advise the person what to do.
From 6 weeks to 3 months after the surgery a person will begin to feel a marked improvement, though it seems that it takes a year to really feel the most benefit from the surgery.
Total or partial knee replacement can improve quality of life, mobility and reduce pain and swelling. It is a fairly serious decision to make as there are long term repercussions from the surgery. There are many, however, who would never look back after they’ve done the surgery and are delighted with their improved functioning.
There are several alternatives to surgery, and hopefully these will be discussed in a future article on senior healthcare information.