Art of Aging: Knee replacement

Knee replacement is one of the most common operations in America, but some patients fear a painful recovery.

Sue Cowan said, "All of a sudden my knee popped."

Edward Maier added, "I was not able to walk steps."

"If I rode long in a car, when I got out, it sort of didn't hold me," said Denise Henderson.

No matter how it happens, when a knee goes bad, it puts the brakes on life.

Henderson continued, "My husband and children and grandchildren would go do things together and i would sit and watch."

Dr. Jonathan Garino of Main Line Health says it usually takes years for the natural shock absorbers in the knee to wear out.

Abnormal, rough spots develop on the bones.

Dr. Garino says, "Makes the joint stiff, doesn't bend well."

With moderate damage, Dr. Garino uses physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and braces to postpone knee replacement.

For severe arthritis, new high-tech joints mean a knee replacement that could last a lifetime.

Dr. Garino says, "Knee replacements will last 20 or 30 years. We rarely transfuse patients anymore."

The operation and recovery itself have also had a makeover in recent years, to make it easier on the patient

Pain is managed through multiple methods, like nerve blocks, with less reliance on narcotics.

And patients usually go straight home a few days after surgery.

Dr. Garino said, "They can walk up and down the stairs. They can go make themselves a sandwich, go out to the mailbox."

Aggressive physical therapy starts later, when swelling goes down.

Doctors say the changes help patients feel better faster.

Maier said, "Within 3 weeks, I was cutting my lawn on my tractor, within 4 weeks, I was driving, and within 5 weeks, I was back to work."

"It's like 20 years younger," said Henderson.

With the new approach, Dr. Garino hopes people won't wait until they lose their mobility to get help.

"People should come sooner rather than later," said Dr. Garino.
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