Chronic, severe joint pain (defined as daily pain of at least a 7 on a 1-10 scale) affects around 15 million Americans each year. If you deal with knee pain caused by osteoarthritis or irreparable damage to your ACL, MCL, or meniscus, you might assume that your only long-term treatment involves a total knee replacement.
But because artificial knee joints don’t last forever — and generally start to reach the end of their usable lifespan around the 20-year mark — they’re not always a great idea for younger patients. because you have increased activity level and longer projected lifespan, you’ll likely need least one revision surgery during your lifetime.
Read on to learn more about some of the options available to you even if you’re not yet a good candidate for a total knee replacement.
1. Osteochondral Allograft Transplant
Artificial knee joints require periodic revision simply because their parts wear out. Unlike a natural knee, these devices made from metal, rubber, and plastic don’t have the ability to regenerate themselves or heal the wear and tear that happens every time weight is placed on the joint.
But when a damaged knee joint is replaced with a deceased donor’s knee and cartilage, or an allograft, it can operate just like the original joint would have if it had not been damaged. By selecting a donor who has the same blood type and other physical characteristics as the recipient, the odds of rejection are significantly reduced.
And because the grafted bone and tissue can quickly integrate into the recipient’s tissue through a process known as osseointegration, the recovery time for this surgery is often much quicker than the recovery for a total knee replacement.
If you’re under age 50, have a healthy immune system, are normal weight (or only slightly overweight) and have previously been told that you’re too young for a total knee replacement despite serious and regular knee pain, talk to an orthopedist to see whether an allograft transplant is right for you.
2. Meniscus Repair or Replacement
As recently as a decade or two ago, orthopedic surgeons would routinely remove damaged or torn sections of the meniscus — the donut-shaped piece of cartilage that prevents a bone-on-bone collision between the tibia, fibula, and knee joint.
Because the meniscus gets very little blood flow and isn’t able to easily heal from even minor tears or cuts, surgeons could simply trim the damaged area, which eliminated any pain, discomfort, or cramping caused by the frayed edges of the meniscus getting “tangled” in the rest of the knee.
Unfortunately, those who have had their meniscus majorly trimmed (or completely removed) at a fairly young age may be at greater risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knee. When there isn’t enough cushioning within the knee to prevent bone-on-bone contact, high-impact sports like running, tennis, or hiking can wear down the bone and connective tissue. This may lead to bone spurs and other painful formations.
Those dealing with serious knee pain can often find themselves in a catch-22; knee pain can prevent you from exercising or even maintaining an active lifestyle. This can cause you to gain weight, which increases the pressure on your already-vulnerable knees with each step you take.
Fortunately, if your knee pain is due to a torn, trimmed, or absent meniscus, you may also be a good candidate for an allograft transplant.
Unlike a total knee replacement, a meniscus allograft transplant can usually be accomplished with just a couple of small incisions on either side of the knee.
If your age prevents you from getting a total knee replacement, the experienced orthopedists and orthopedic surgeons at Omaha Orthopedic Clinic and Sports Medicine can evaluate you and recommend a custom care plan.