WebMD Health News
Laura J. Martin, MD
March 12, 2010 -- As they reach their 60s and beyond, baby boomers are
increasingly opting for surgery to replace their worn-out knees.
More than half a million total knee replacement procedures are performed
annually in the U.S., and this number is projected to climb to around 3 million
per year over the next several decades.
Now, a timely study should reassure those considering going under the knife
to escape knee pain.
One year after surgery, 95% of the more than 7,000 patients surveyed
reported being happy with their new knees.
The study is the largest to examine satisfaction with total knee replacement
surgery among patients treated over the last decade, orthopaedic surgeon and
study researcher David Christopher Ayers, MD, of the University of
Massachusetts Medical School tells WebMD.
Ayers presented the findings Thursday at the 2010 annual meeting of the
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons in New Orleans.
"Ninety-five percent is an astonishing number, and it points to how
successful this operation is for relieving pain and restoring function to
patients who can no longer control their pain with medication," Ayers says.
The study participants came from 32 states and were treated by 200 surgeons
practicing at both academic and non-academic surgical centers.
Two-thirds of the patients were female and over the age of 65, and the vast
majority (95%) had a diagnosis of osteoarthritis.
Public relations specialist Robin Mayhall of Baton Rouge, La., now 40, was
just 27 when she had two operations to replace both knees.
"It was absolutely life changing," she tells WebMD. "There is no doubt about
it. It is the best thing I ever did."
Mayhall was much younger than most knee replacement patients when she had
her surgery. But her knees were so damaged from rheumatoid arthritis that the
decision was a no-brainer.
"It had gotten to the point where I had to take [the painkiller] Vicodin
every day to continue working," she says. "I would come home from work
completely exhausted with no energy to run errands or do anything fun."
Twenty-four hours after having her first surgery, Mayhall was in less pain
than she had been prior to her operation. Within three weeks she was working
She recognizes her experience is not typical and says her young age and
relatively good health probably played a role in her quick recovery.
Prolonged postsurgical pain and long recovery times continue to be a
challenge with total knee replacement surgery, says Clifford Colwell, MD, who
is medical director of the Shiley Center for Orthopaedic Research and Education
in San Diego.
Younger patients and women were the most likely to express dissatisfaction
with the surgery one year later in the new study.
Not surprisingly, dissatisfied patients reported more persistent knee pain
than satisfied patients.
Colwell says he is not surprised that 95% of surveyed patients were happy
with the results of their surgery one year later.
But he points out that when patients are surveyed three months and even six
months after surgery, satisfaction rates tend to be much lower.
"The overall results from knee and hip replacement surgery are about equal,
but knee replacement patients tend to have a tougher time and a longer
recovery," he says.
While some patients feel fine in as little as three weeks, others take three
to six months to recover.
"We are doing much better managing postoperative pain and reducing recovery
times, but we still have a ways to go," he says.
SOURCES:Annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, New Orleans,
March 11, 2010.David Christopher Ayers, MD, Arthur Pappas professor and chair, department
of orthopaedics, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worchester,
Mass.Robin Mayhall, public relations specialist, Baton Rouge, La.Clifford Colwell, MD, medical director, Shiley Center for Orthopaedic
Research and Education, Scripps Clinic, San Diego.National Center for Health Statistics: "In Patient Surgeries, 2006."DiGioia, A. M. Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, December 2007;
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