They expect to run, bike, lift weights, play tennis, softball, and basketball, and take aerobics classes straight through the golden years. But the baby boomers are learning that actions have consequences.
The consequence of all this action is simple. Boomer joints are wearing out faster than those of past generations, says the orthopedic surgeon who coined the term "boomeritis."
"We used to see patients primarily in their 60s and 70s coming in for joint replacement," says Nicholas A. DiNubile, M.D., author of Framework: Your 7-Step Program for Healthy Muscles, Bones, and Joints. "We'd see them as young as 55 — and now patients needing knees and hips are as young as their 40s and 50s."
Although some hips, knees, shoulders, and elbows must be replaced, he warns against replacing them too soon. "When people have joints replaced, they need to be aware that they have to take care of their new joints," says Dr. DiNubile.
With good care, patients can expect the replacement to last about 10 to 20 years, depending on the joint. But those who stay extremely active may need to replace the replacement in five to seven years, he says. "That you can just keep going back for replacements of the same joint is wrong thinking," warns Dr. DiNubile. "Revisions are a much bigger surgery and are more difficult."
"If you're over 50, you have arthritis pain, and you're having trouble with activities, see an orthopedist," he recommends. A change in activity, medication, supplements, or other treatment might stave off joint replacement for years. In that time, treatments will improve.
Surgeons are already working with smaller incisions and special knees made for women. Instead of being replaced, some hips are now "resurfaced" — the head of the thighbone is shaved, rounded, and fitted into a metal cup implanted in a pelvic socket. Down the line, cell therapies may grow new tissue inside joints.
"Innovation is a great thing, but be sure it's right in each instance," Dr. DiNubile says. "A smaller incision might not be right for you, and the new women's knee is still new and needs more science behind it. Hip resurfacing is a good option for younger patients."
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