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Medical Moment: When to have knees replaced

Published: Dec. 28, 2021 at 8:39 PM EST
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600,000 Americans got their knees replaced the year before the pandemic, and experts say that number is expected to rise by over 100 percent by 2025.

In the past, experts have cautioned patients not to get their knees done too young because parts can wear out. But how young is too young for new knees? The answer might surprise you…

Marnie Masotti and Skyler Love their walks together, something that caused Marnie pain in the past.

“When you’re walking along and your like, you hear this ‘crunch, crunch, crunch,’ you know something’s wrong there,” Marnie says.

Marnie’s cartilage had worn down, and her legs began to bow out.

“Most patients become bow-legged because it’s more common for the cartilage to wear out on the inside of the knee than the outside,” Joseph Ciotola, orthopedic surgeon at Mercy Medical Center.

Dr. Ciotola replaced Marnie’s right knee six years ago, removing the damaged joint and replacing it with an artificial one. For her left knee, last year the doctor had a new robotic system called the Mako. Experts say with Mako, and other recent advances, there’s more precision, a shorter hospital stay, and less pain. Important for all patients, but especially those at a later stage in life.

“I’ve done surgery on a patient that was 100 years old, and I saw him on his 102nd birthday, you know, still enjoying it,” Ciotola says.

Experts also say despite the old conventional wisdom to wait as long as possible, 85 percent of all replacements now last 20 years or more, making it a viable option for younger patients. Dr. Ciotola says pain, not age, is often the determining factor. Marnie feels good and is moving better than ever after her knee replacement.

“It just worked; I mean worked out perfectly,” Marnie says.

Doctors also say having a chronic condition, like diabetes or heart disease, won’t exclude you from total joint replacement. You may need to ensure your blood sugar is under control.

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