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Knee Replacement

New Knees For Younger Patients

Joel Wallskog, M.D.
The Orthopedic Institute of Wisconsin

Patients with painful, worn-out knees used to be advised to hold off as long as possible before undergoing joint replacement surgery. Thanks to advancements in surgical techniques and knee replacement "parts," that way of thinking is now considered somewhat "old school."

"Regardless of age, the best time to have total knee replacement is when your quality of life is affected enough," says Joel Wallskog, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in joint reconstruction at the Aurora Health Centers in Washington County. "We look at age, certainly, but we also consider the patient’s lifestyle and activity level, general health, degree of arthritis, and personal goals. It’s no longer unusual to perform joint replacement surgery in patients in their 50s, even their 40s.” The logic behind waiting to have the operation until patients were in their 60s or 70s was related to the longevity of artificial joints and the desire for it to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Today, 90 to 95 percent of knee replacements are lasting at least 15 years, and because of the way some systems are designed, “tune-ups” to replace just the worn parts can be accomplished with minimally invasive surgeries.

Another significant stride in total knee replacement is the development of innovative options to suit individual needs, such as the "flex insert." It is made of plastic to allow for greater range of motion than with conventional inserts. "Everyone doesn’t need high performance components," he says, "but it’s a great example of how far we’ve come in knee replacement systems. Today there are choices for each person’s situation."

Few are more grateful for such choices than 50-year-old Karen Kuehl, a lifelong resident of Hustisford, who tolerated a painful “bone on bone” arthritic condition in both knees for as long as she can remember. A full-time child care provider, mother of five and grandmother of seven with number eight due in February, Karen enjoys a very active lifestyle that involves a lot of bending, stooping, rocking, reaching and chasing after little ones. "I need my legs," she says with a laugh. For years, Karen got by with conservative arthritis treatment such as anti-inflammatory medications and cortisone shots, but last spring, the pain became unbearable. In June, she turned to Dr. Wallskog and the Aurora Medical Center in Hartford for bilateral knee replacement – both knees at once – another option for younger, healthy patients. By September, Karen’s home child care service was up and running.

"I feel better than ever," says Karen at the end of a long day. "I used to take pain medication every few hours. Now I can’t even remember the last time I needed it."

"From Dr. Wallskog to the wonderful hospital nurses and rehabilitation staff, I really can’t begin to express my thanks for the orthopedic team we have here in Washington County. When I began considering surgery, people suggested I go to Milwaukee or Waukesha. But we’re lucky… the best actually come right here to us."

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