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Many Patients Undergo Unnecessary Knee Replacements, Research Suggests

Nov 21, 2014

Knee replacements may be tempting for arthritis sufferers, but a growing body of evidence suggests that they are often not as beneficial as manufacturers claim. Well, the New York Times health blog, cites new research suggesting that many patients undergo knee replacement surgery prematurely and with limited benefit.

Knee replacement surgery is growing in popularity. In 2012, more than 600,000 knee replacement surgeries were performed compared to about 250,000 just 15 years ago. Figures from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons show that between 2000 and 2012, the number of knee replacements in people between the ages of 45 and 64 increased 205 percent; in people 65 and older, the increase was only 95 percent.

Individuals who suffer from sore and creaky knees may be drawn to claims that knee replacements offer increased mobility, less and pain and more youthful lifestyle. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that it would be more beneficial to try other methods to improve their knees first. Research suggests that many people are undergoing the procedures prematurely and gaining limited benefit.

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond conducted a surgical validity assessment for two major studies published this year. They found that knee replacements were not appropriate unless patients had arthritis that was medically proven to be advanced. This criteria is more than severe pain; it means that patients have impaired physical function such as the inability to get out of a chair or walk without aid, the Well blog noted. The researchers also determined that the devices are less suitable for patients under the age of 65 because the materials of the implant only last a couple of decades, meaning the patient would need to undergo another knee replacement in their lifetime.

Researchers analyzed data from 200 men and women with aching, arthritic knees who underwent knee replacement surgery within five years of entering a large study. They found that only about one third would have been considered an appropriate candidate based on their standards. A number of these participants only had mild arthritis.

Dr. Daniel Riddle, who is a professor of physical therapy and orthopedic surgery at Virginia Commonwealth University, led the study. The main message is that patients should not resort to replacement unless their knees are essentially unusable. “Ask your doctor how advanced your arthritis really is,” Dr. Riddle said, according to Well. He advises consulting with a physical therapist about joint strengthening exercises and potentially losing weight if patients do not have bone-on-bone arthritis.

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