Bionic boomers

July 9, 2008
By: Vicki Bell

Last week I met with my orthopedic surgeon to discuss my upcoming hip replacement procedure. I'm one of the growing numbers, particularly those in the 45 to 64 age group (baby boomers), who are having joint replacement surgery.

I'm not a newbie when it comes to this surgery. My left hip was replaced in 2004, and so far, I would categorize that operation as a great success—so much so that I am ready to have the right replaced.

Yes, there are minor issues.

I set off airport metal detectors. Incidentally, as more and more of us become bionic, the wait for a TSA agent to wand and pat you down is becoming longer. It usually takes multiple "female assist" announcements before someone comes to lead me through the process.

I have some restrictions when it comes to movement. I have been advised not to run or play tennis (although my doctor said doubles might be OK), because both activities can loosen the implant, which creates problems that may require revision surgery.

Before dental appointments, I am required to take antibiotics. This is a problem only when I forget to take them, arrive at the dentist"s office, and then have to reschedule the appointment.

I will forever bear scars from the surgery. This may be a big issue for some, but it doesn't bother me at all. In fact, none of these relatively minor complaints negate the very positive effect of being able to walk and stand for long periods of time pain-free.

The reason for my pain is a common one—osteoarthritis, sometimes called degenerative joint disease or osteoarthrosis.

According to WebMD, osteoarthritis is by far the most common type of arthritis, and the percentage of people who have it grows higher with age. An estimated 12.1 percent of the U.S. population (nearly 21 million Americans) age 25 and older have osteoarthritis.

Although osteoarthritis is more common in older people, younger people can develop it— usually as the result of a joint injury, a joint malformation, or a genetic defect in joint cartilage. Both men and women have the disease. Before age 45, more men than women have osteoarthritis; after age 45, it is more common in women. It is also more likely to occur in people who are overweight and in those with jobs that stress particular joints.

As the population ages, the number of people with osteoarthritis will only grow. By 2030, 20 percent of Americans—about 72 million people—will have passed their 65th birthday and will be at high risk for the disease.

My osteoarthritis was not diagnosed until it became severe. Maybe I have a high tolerance for pain, or maybe I'm the stoic my doctor accused me of being. In either case, discovering the condition in its more advanced stage left me fewer options. Fearing drugs designed to treat arthritis pain (i.e., Vioxx®—a drug that continues to be the subject of legal battles), I resorted to an occasional over-the-counter pain killer combined with exercising on a recumbent bike. Neither seemed to help. The orthopedic surgeon told me I would know when the time was right for more extreme measures. He was right—both in 2004 and now.

Many days I wish I had had both hips done at the same time, but after meeting with my surgeon last week for my pre-op consultation, I'm glad I waited. Implant technology has changed greatly since hip replacements first began in 1960, and it continues to improve.

In 2004, I was fitted with a large-ball, metal/polyethylene prosthesis, because the surgeon felt that was the best option at the time. This time, I will receive a large-ball, metal-on-metal prosthesis, which was developed post 2004. Why go with the new technology instead of what worked before? The surgeon said metal-on-metal is better. It should last longer.

Efforts continue to develop the best possible replacements for hips, knees, shoulders, and elbows. These efforts include researching and developing new bio-friendly materials, including metals. As boomers age and become bionic, companies manufacturing these devices should experience a booming market. Those that do so should make sure to learn from manufacturer Stryker's mistakes.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209