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The numbers tell the story. There were 288,471 total hip replacements in 2009, nearly half of them in people under 65, according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which tracks hospitalizations.
Knee replacements soared from 264,311 in 1997 to 621,029 in 2009, and more than tripled in the 45-to-64-year-old age group.
"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.
She analyzed how much of this rise was due to population growth and obesity, and presented results at an orthopedic meeting in San Diego in February.
From 1997 to 2007, the population of 45- to 64-year-olds grew by 36 percent, but knee replacements in this group more than tripled. Obesity rates didn't rise enough to explain the trend.
"At most, 23 percent of the 10-year growth in total knee replacement can be explained by increasing obesity and population size," Losina said.
"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. Better yet, try to prevent the need for one.
"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.
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.
"I tell patients, 20 percent of the outcome is the technical stuff I do in the surgery, and 80 percent is them," said Hillock, the Las Vegas surgeon. "I can do a perfect surgery, but if they don't do the rehab they're not going to have a good outcome."
Consumer info: http://www.orthoinfo.org/ and http://www.aaos.org/research/stats/patientstats.asp
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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