Yes, indeed. There have been many advances in all surgical fields, joint replacements included. We’ve seen advances in surgical techniques, developments in implant design and technology, and improvements in the materials used to make artificial joints. I find it necessary to limit my surgical practice to only knee and hip reconstruction, so I can stay abreast of all the developments
With knee surgery, we now have options that we didn’t have previously. Some of the credit goes to the engineers who design and build the artificial joints. The plastic materials used to make implants are more durable, and the engineering has improved to allow greater flexion. The design has evolved enough that we now have gender specific implants.
Another big change in knee surgery is that our emphasis has shifted from simply implanting the device properly to rapid recovery. Orthopedic surgeons had often been criticized in the past for being carpenters—with a single-minded goal of properly implanting a new joint. We’ve learned to do that predictably well, and so now we are able to focus on getting patients up and around more quickly after surgery. New surgical techniques such as minimally invasive surgery and partial knee replacement allow the surgeon to preserve more of the knee joint, as well as offer a faster recovery.
This is important because the number of people who will need joint replacement in the next few years is staggering. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, there are currently about 400,000 knee replacements a year in the U.S. alone, and about 200,000 hip replacements. In 2030, we anticipate there will be 1.2 million knee replacements a year and 600,000 hip replacements.
Part of what drives the increase in numbers is the difference in expectations people have for their later years. They want to remain active, continue playing golf and tennis. They want to take care of the grandchildren and travel. They are no longer content to stay at home and be inactive. The advances we’re making in all areas of orthopedics, including knee surgery, are geared toward supporting an active lifestyle well into old age.