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Studies: Knee Replacements Double In Last Decade

BOSTON (CBS) - Karen Ferriera loves to stay fit, but not long ago, a bad knee made exercise nearly impossible. "I was wearing a brace all day, living on pain killers and I could barely walk my dogs around the block."

Her doctors prescribed physical therapy and cortisone shots, but ultimately, she was told she needed a new knee. "I thought he was pretty much crazy. I was only 46 at the time. It just didn't seem possible," she said.

Recent studies show the number of knee replacements has doubled in the last decade and more women than men are having the surgery. Right now, more than 4.5 million Americans live with one knee replacement and many of those people are relatively young.

"Historically, knee replacements were meant primarily for older populations," explained orthopedist Dr. Maury Harwood. "What we've seen with this rise in baby boomers is a lot of people have worked hard and played hard and now they need to pay hard," he said.

According to Dr. Harwood, there are a number of factors behind this trend including the fact that baby boomers are much more active than previous generations. Many baby boomers also have the "need it now" mindset. If they are uncomfortable, they don't want to wait.

Medical advancements in joint replacement have also made the surgery easier. "The main advancement in knee replacement technology is we're moving toward custom implants," he said. "Now what we're doing is we're using MRI's and CT scans and we're actually building three dimensional models of peoples' knees and making implants that fit them specifically," he added.

These custom implants also make it easier for the patients to get back to their normal activities after the surgery. "I'm back to walking five, six miles. I can ride my bike. I can do all the activities I love," Karen said.

Artificial joints do have limitations. "There are studies that show that if you are very, very active and do a lot of pounding on these replacements, you'll loosen them and the replacement will fail earlier," Harwood said.  For some patients that will mean a second surgery down the road.

Karen said she has just one regret. "I should never have waited as long as I did," she said.

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