Baby boomers fueling boom in knee, hip surgeries

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by Marilyn Marchione

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SAN DIEGO (AP)—We’re becoming a nation of bum knees, worn-out hips and sore shoulders, and it’s not just the Medicare set. Baby boomer bones and joints also are taking a pounding, spawning a boom in operations to fix them.

Knee replacement surgeries have doubled over the last decade and more than tripled in the 45-to-64 age group, new research shows. Hips are trending that way, too.

And here’s a surprise: It’s not all due to obesity. Ironically, trying to stay fit and avoid extra pounds is taking a toll on a generation that expects bad joints can be swapped out like old tires on a car.

“Boomeritis” or “fix-me-itis” is what Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, a suburban Philadelphia surgeon, calls it.

“It’s this mindset of ‘fix me at any cost, turn back the clock,’” said DiNubile, an adviser to several pro athletic groups and a spokes­man for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. “The boomers are the first generation trying to stay active in droves on an aging frame” and are less willing to use a cane or put up with pain or stiffness as their grandparents did, he said.

Joint replacements have enabled millions of people to lead better lives, and surgeons are increasingly comfortable offering them to younger people.

But here’s the rub: No one really knows how well these implants will perform in the active baby boomers getting them now.

Studies presented at a recent orthopedics conference that found knee replacements lasting 20 years come with the caveat that this is in older people who were not stressing their new joints by running marathons, skiing or playing tennis.

Besides the usual risks of surgery, replacing joints in younger people increases the odds they’ll need future operations when these wear out, specialists say.

“Five or 10 years ago, a very small number of people under 65 were receiving this surgery. Now we see more and more younger people getting it,” said Elena Losina, co-director of the Orthopaedic and Arthritis Center for Outcomes Research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“This is a very successful operation. The only caveat is, all the successes have been seen in the older population,” who usually put less stress on their new joints than younger folks who want to return to sports. “It’s unclear whether the artificial joint is designed to withstand this higher activity,” she said.

If you have a good result from a joint replacement, don’t spoil it by overdoing the activity afterward, experts warn.

“Being active is the closest thing to the fountain of youth,” but most people need to modify their exercise habits because they’re overdoing one sport, not stretching, or doing something else that puts their joints at risk, said DiNubile, the “boomeritis” doctor.

Experts recommend:

•Cross training. People tend to find one thing they like and do it a lot, but multiple activities prevent overuse.

•Balance your routines to build strength, flexibility, core muscles and cardiovascular health.

•Lose weight. “Every extra pound you carry registers as five extra pounds on your knees,” DiNubile said. “The good news is, you don’t need to lose a lot of weight” to ease the burden.

•Spend more time warming up. Break a sweat and get the blood flowing before you go full blast.

•Let muscles and joints recover and rest in between workouts.

•If you’ve had a joint replacement, do the physical therapy that’s recommended.

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