Harvard Men's Health Watch

Knee replacements rise sharply in people on Medicare

The number of total knee replacement (TKR) procedures performed on people in the Medicare system has grown dramatically, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. From 1991 to 2010, 3.2 million Medicare beneficiaries underwent either a first TKR or a replacement implant because of infections, implant failure or wear, or other complications. Medicare reimburses for TKRs at a rate of around $15,000 per knee.

One factor driving the implant upsurge is the desire of an aging population to remain physically active. Another factor is an increase in people who are overweight or obese, which causes joints (both natural and implanted) to wear out faster.

The study showed that installing more implants came with a proportional rise in the number of people who had problems, since all invasive or surgical procedures carry risks. These included a doubling of the annual number of replacement implants, known as revisions. On the plus side, the rate of surgical complications, mostly infections, remained flat at 5%.

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