DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I’m 72 years old and need a knee replacement. Is this safe at my age? Will I be able to do the same activities after I’ve recovered from surgery?
ANSWER: If you’re otherwise in good health, knee replacement surgery can be a reasonable option for someone your age. It should only be used if other nonsurgical treatment approaches have not worked for your knee problems, though. As with any surgery, knee replacement does involve some risks. But for many people, this surgery offers a good opportunity to return to an active lifestyle.
Knee replacement surgery is most often used to repair joint damage caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis that causes knee pain and makes it hard to do daily activities. During knee replacement, a surgeon cuts away the damaged bone and cartilage from your thighbone, shinbone and kneecap and replaces it with an artificial joint.
The number of knee replacements being done for people 65 and older in the United States has risen sharply, with the rate of these surgeries almost doubling in the past several decades. There are a variety of reasons for the increase.
First, arthritis is a condition that affects older adults much more commonly than younger people. The U.S. population overall is aging, so there are many people over the age of 60 who have knee arthritis. Second, many of today’s older adults were quite active throughout their life and into their 40s and 50s. Although an active lifestyle is good for your health, it can wear out your knees.
Of course, many of these people, like you, want to stay active into their later years, too. It’s not uncommon to see 80-year-olds and even 90-year-olds with symptomatic knee arthritis that they want treated, so they can return to their usual activities.