How soon is too soon to have your knees replaced? 60? 50? 40? A 49 year old community member recently asked this question because her natural knees are completely done. After a lifetime of knee dislocations and surgeries, she is begging to have both replaced. Unfortunately, she has to beg because she is so young. Surgeons get worried about knee arthroplasty in the younger people on account of a limited life expectancy for an artificial knee.
I answered her question with an example of a 44 year old client of mine that just had both of his knees replaced by the surgeon's at the University of California, Davis Medical Center. This team of orthopedic specialist took one look at the knees of this veteran and had no doubt that it was time to fix the problem by replacing his knees. Now, 6 months after the surgeries, he is all smiles. No more pain, no more pills, just a full life ahead of him enjoying his career, his family and his hobbies.
So what is the life expectancy for an artificial knee device? Of course, the answer to that question is contingent on the health of an individual and the activity level of the individual. The survival rates, prior to any revisions being necessary, have been reported to be 97% at 5 years, 92% at 8 years, and 86% at 10 years. Notice that the older the device the more likely revisions are necessary. 10-15% will encounter device failure at 10 years post surgically. But that also means that 85% are doing just fine at 10 years and even 20 years post surgically.1,2
Does this mean that my 44 year old client will have major knee problems when he is 64 years of age? Possibly, but until then, he is having a wonderful life being active yet sensible. Obviously, he doesn't want to take risks by adding unnecessary wear and tear to his artificial knees. Activities like running, skiing, and football are definitely ill advised. If he takes care of his new knees, maybe they will last the rest of his life.
If he does have problems, it will likely be due to device loosening or failure of the polyethylene insert. Both problems can be remedied with a revision surgery.
But don't try to tell him that his knees were replaced too soon. He has just gotten his life back. Thankfully, he found a surgeon that agreed to replace knees that were robbing him of a joy and happiness. Truly, knee arthroplasty surgery can be life-saving. If your life has ground to a halt because of natural knees that are completely done, find a merciful surgeon who can return you to the living.
- Bone Joint J. 2013 Jul;95-B(7):917-22.
- J Arthroplasty. 2013 Aug;28(7):1130-4