Total Knee Replacement Saves Money, Improves Sex Life: Orthopaedic Surgeons Joel Buchalter and Doug Fauser Respond to New Research, Offer Tips to Optimize Recovery

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According to Joel S. Buchalter, MD, FAAOS and Douglas J. Fauser, MD, FAAOS, with Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine Group, research highlights why seeking total knee replacement can be a valuable decision for those with diseased and damaged knee joints that cause chronic pain and dysfunction.

Drs. Joel Buchalter and Doug Fauser

Studies clearly demonstrate that the benefits of this surgery extend much farther than eliminating pain – a top reason for seeking the procedure – and also enhance patients’ productivity and quality of life.

Recent studies on total knee replacement (TKR) surgery indicate the procedure pays off in important ways in both the wallet and the bedroom. The research highlights why seeking TKR can be a valuable decision for those with diseased and damaged knee joints that cause chronic pain and dysfunction, according to Joel S. Buchalter, MD, FAAOS and Douglas J. Fauser, MD, FAAOS, founding partners of Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine Group.

New research published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (August 2013, http://jbjs.org/article.aspx?articleid=1725206) found that knee replacement surgery saves between $10,000 and $30,000 per patient over their lifetime in increased earnings and fewer missed workdays. Meanwhile, a study presented (in March 2013, http://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-03-sexual-function-significantly-hip-knee.html#nwlt) at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) found that the sexual functioning of those who had TKR or hip replacement surgery improved by 90 percent.

“More than 27 million Americans live with osteoarthritis, the most common reason for knee joint replacement surgery,” says Dr. Buchalter, a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon. “These studies clearly demonstrate that the benefits of this surgery extend much farther than eliminating pain – a top reason for seeking the procedure – and also enhance patients’ productivity and quality of life.”

The desire to stay active is fueling the growth in joint replacement surgeries nationwide, along with an aging population. TKR surgery is expected to be performed on 3 million patients annually by the year 2030, up from 600,000 in 2009, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. During the procedure, also known as knee arthroplasty, a surgeon excises damaged bone and cartilage in the knee area, replacing it with an artificial joint made of metal alloys, high-grade plastics and polymers.

Studies quantify professional, personal value of TKR
The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery study showed that the societal benefits for knee replacement patients of working age greatly outweigh the combined cost of the surgery and rehabilitation compared to non-surgical treatments for osteoarthritis. More than 90 percent of those who undergo TKR experience a dramatic reduction of knee pain and significant improvements in the ability to perform common daily activities, according to the AAOS.

“Almost half of TKR patients are now under age 65, with most still in the workforce,” says Dr. Fauser, also a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon, “so these cost benefits can obviously add up quickly.”

The sexual functioning study presented at the AAOS meeting, which included 174 men and women (average age 58), found that 49 percent had suffered from reduced libido prior to knee or hip replacement and 53 percent felt their arthritis had hurt their sexual self-image. After surgery, 81 percent of those whose sexual activity was previously affected had noticed an improvement in the frequency of sexual activity.

“Few people think about the effect knee replacement surgery might have on their sex lives,” explains Dr. Fauser, “but this research clearly shows that eliminating their pain can markedly improve their enjoyment.”

How to optimize surgical outcomes
As with any surgery, patients’ attitudes and efforts toward recovery can optimize the process when literally getting back on their feet after TKR, Drs. Buchalter and Fauser agree. They offer these tips for patients to boost their recovery:

  • Watch for signs of infection, such as fever, chills, surgical site drainage or increasing knee swelling or tenderness.
  • Create a living space on one floor of your home for several weeks after surgery to avoid stairs.
  • Install safety bars or handrails in your bathroom and on stairways.
  • Remove all loose carpets and cords around your home.
  • Keep “enthusiastic” pets away until you have healed.
  • Continue physical therapy as recommended and slowly resume normal household activities.
  • Avoid high-impact activities such as jogging, skiing, tennis and sports that involve contact or jumping until your doctor approves.

“There is much that patients can do to take the lead in their own recovery after TKR surgery,” says Dr. Buchalter: “The combination of proactive healing and favorable research results makes TKR a great choice to improve patients’ lives.”    

Note that both Drs. Fauser and Buchalter are concerned for the growing Medicare population as reimbursements to surgeons who perform these operations on a routine basis may no longer be able to offer these services to Medicare patients if the reimbursements from the government drop any lower. Medicare pays them less than $1200 per surgery which includes 3 months of aftercare with increasing bureaucratic demands. This is little thanks for such a successful and valuable procedure.

Somers Orthopaedic Surgery &Sports Medicine Group, PLLC, founded in 1988, is one of the most comprehensive and specialized practices in the region with offices in Carmel, Hopewell Junction, Mt. Kisco and Newburgh. http://www.somersortho.com

Joel S. Buchalter, MD, FAAOS, FACS and Douglas J. Fauser, MD, FAAOS, FACS are board-certified orthopaedic surgeons and founding partners of Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine Group, PLLC .

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