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How Young is Too Young for a Knee Replacement

November 04, 2022

Knee replacement has traditionally been reserved for the older population. Currently, the average age of a patient who gets knee replacement surgery in the United States is around 65 years old. Generally, surgeons consider anyone under age 50 to be young for knee replacement. But this group is the fastest-growing group having knee replacement surgery. 

The decision to have a joint replacement depends more on your circumstances, such as how much pain you have, whether the problem is causing you significant disability, and your overall health, not just how old you are. There is no set age cutoff for a knee replacement, as each patient’s case is different. 

Before surgical intervention becomes an option, other less invasive treatments such as anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone injections, and physical therapy should be explored. 

Younger patients who qualify for knee replacement surgery commonly have tried these treatments with no results or have severe arthritis that has not responded to conservative treatment. In these rare cases, a knee replacement would provide pain relief and would allow the patient to maintain physical and mental health.

Doctors sometimes recommend that people under age 60 wait to undergo a knee replacement, because these artificial joints typically last only about 15 to 20 years. If someone younger gets the procedure, the joint will likely need to be replaced again down the line.

For a total knee replacement, that is, a resurfacing of all the compartments of the knee, there’s a lot of evidence that the older you are the happier you’ll be with your new knee. The primary risk of total knee replacement in younger patients is the possibility of wearing out the implant since it will be in place for many years. A patient’s level of activity seems to be related to the amount of wear to a knee joint replacement. Therefore young patients with joint replacements should be cautious and perform only suggested low-impact activities.

This issue of functional demand is an important one. Knee implants have progressed impressively over the past couple of decades and are now likely to last many years. But no implant is indestructible and the more you do, the faster your implant is likely to wear out. When that happens, you can’t have a second TKR. It is possible to revise a TKR and give it a major overhaul, but the results will never be as good as the original implant, and with each successive revision, the function will be a little worse and pain will be a little more.

It’s a different story with partial knee replacement (PKR). In a PKR, just one compartment of the knee is resurfaced. It’s a far less radical procedure, recovery times are faster and when it eventually wears out years down the line, you retain the option of having a TKR. 

Studies show these surgeries work well. More than 85% of patients under 50 who have knee replacement consider their results to be good. The complication rate is also low. More than 98% of the knee replacements placed in these younger patients were still functioning ten years after surgery.

“No one can say for sure if patients of a certain age are too young for total knee replacement or what age marks the turning point,” said Renee Peebles, Executive Director of Orthopedics for West Tennessee Healthcare’s North Hospital. “What we do know is the benefits for some younger patients may outweigh the risks of surgery.” 

So, what is the best age for knee replacement surgery? Unfortunately, there is no answer that applies to all patients. Talk to an orthopedic surgeon as they can evaluate your condition and determine if you are a candidate for this procedure. If you are a candidate for knee replacement, ask your Orthopedist about having it done at West Tennessee Healthcare’s North Hospital