March 24, 2006 in Nation/World

Need for artificial joints will grow sharply

Ronald Kotulak Chicago Tribune
 
Associated Press photo

Dr. Joshua Jacobs holds artificial hip joints removed from a patient.
(Full-size photo)

CHICAGO – As Americans live longer, exercise more and become increasingly obese, the number of artificial joints that will be needed to replace damaged knees will jump 673 percent by 2030 to 3.48 million a year, according to a new study.

The need for artificial hips will climb 174 percent over the same period to 572,000 a year, said Steven M. Kurtz, of Exponent Inc., a Philadelphia-based engineering and scientific consulting firm. The study is to be presented today at the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons annual meeting in Chicago.

The huge increase in artificial joints is the result of two converging trends – more people suffering wear and tear on their joints in a condition called osteoarthritis, and improvements in artificial joint technology that dramatically relieves pain and disability, experts say.

Joints normally sustain wear over time. The cartilage cushion between bones gradually erodes, causing pain when the bones rub together. This process is exacerbated by vigorous exercise or sports activities, which may injure joints, and putting on excessive pounds, which places greater pressure on joints. Artificial replacements are made of metal and plastic.

The study projecting increased use of artificial joints is also seen as a harbinger of a looming health care crisis as medical technology eases the lives of more patients, but greatly increases costs. As costs escalate they could add to pressures to deny underserved patients the benefits of this technology, medical experts say.

“There’s always been this concern that with the baby boomer population aging that we were going to overwhelm the system that provides medical care,” said Dr. Mark Hutchinson, professor of orthopedics and sports medicine at the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago. “Our medical care is already costing more and more and yet we’re looking at a significant increase in the future.”


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