Doctors see "near epidemic" of arthritis among Gen X-ers

September 21, 2009 8:19:42 AM PDT
Arthritis is a joint disease normally associated with the elderly. But it's a disease affecting more young people than you think.

Martial arts instructor Julie Elrod has always taken care of herself.

But around age 40, Julie's active life was almost stopped by a painful bout of arthritis in her knee.

Julie Elrod," It was just excruciatingly painful every night. I'd go home a lot of nights in tears, and just... But by the next day, i'd come back and do it again."

Julie is one of a growing number of younger people who are wearing their joints out too soon.

In fact, orthopedic surgeon barry waldman calls it a 'near' epidemic.

Dr. Barry Waldman, an orthopedic surgeon with OrthoMaryland, in Owings Mills, Maryland, says. "There are a lot of demographic studies showing that this is the case, but again, we don't know the one reason why it is that these patients are being affected so young."

There are 2 theories, at opposite ends of the spectrum.

The first is weight -

"It can be the fact that Americans are getting more and more obese, and we believe obesity plays a big role in joints wearing out prematurely," says Dr. Waldman.

On the flip side, some young people are more active than generations before.

He says, "It may be the fact that patients just aren't willing to accept the same kind of limitations they used to accept."

Whatever the reason, it's driving companies that make joint replacements to make them better.

But still it's best to exhaust all conservative therapies before turning to surgery.

That's what Julie did, but in the end, to ease her pain, she needed part of her damaged knee to be resurfaced with a with a metal implant.

She was delighted with the results.

"I thought I would never realize what it was like to not have pain again," she says.

Dr. Waldman says thanks to early intervention and better treatments, only about 10 per cent of all arthritis patients need surgery.

But he says younger patients feeling pain, shouldn't wait to have it checked out.

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