While it is not uncommon for a particular medical condition or treatment to impact men and women at different rates, you are probably not aware that knee replacement is among them. You may be surprised to learn that it is women who require knee replacement more often than men.
Not only do I know this from my own experience as an orthopedic surgeon and the knee replacement procedures that I’ve performed, but a large body of research has also shown this to be true over the years. Here’s why.
The science behind differing rates between the sexes
Backing up a step, it may be more accurate to say that severe osteoarthritis of the knee—the most common reason for needing a knee replacement procedure—impacts women at higher rates than men. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage in a joint, which serves as a protective cushion, wears down over a long period of time.
Women have a 3.5 times higher risk of developing arthritis in the knee than men. The reasons for this include:
- The difference in knee anatomy and biomechanics
- History of previous trauma
- Joint laxity
- Hormonal and menopausal factors
- Activity. Some studies point to the fact that women are typically more active during their lifetime. The more steps taken in a day, the more force placed on the knee.
While weight is a contributing factor for both men and women who develop arthritis, the most significant overall factor is our genetics.
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Knee replacement: The third chapter in treating knee pain
Man or woman, knee replacement is a significant surgery. But there has been tremendous progress made in the procedure and recovery process in recent years with patients rarely needing more than one day in the hospital. I like to think of knee replacement as a journey with different chapters.
- Chapter 1: Non-surgical care like medications, physical therapy, bracing and weight loss.
- Chapter 2: Osteoarthritis is characterized by inflammation. There are a range of injectable therapies that may provide long-lasting relief for some people.
- Chapter 3: Knee replacement surgery is a safe and effective treatment for finding relief from the pain and swelling associated with knee osteoarthritis.
After surgery, the tissue around the knee needs time to heal before you can start a program to help strengthen the knee. The replacement joint will continue to mend for up to a year after the procedure, typically allowing you to achieve the goal of a pain-free lifestyle and the ability to move better.
How to decide if it’s time for knee replacement
Despite being more likely to need knee replacement, I have noticed that women often wait longer to get evaluated and consequently, their knees are often in worse shape. Interestingly though, female patients often have a smoother recovery from surgery, but recovery largely depends on the steps you take while preparing for surgery and recovering afterwards. For tips on what to expect during knee surgery recovery, read this.
When deciding whether or not to get knee replacement, consider your pain level and ask yourself, how is my quality of life?
If you and your doctor decide knee replacement is the right choice for you, our orthopedic experts are ready to guide you through the process and get you on the road to moving better.
How’s your knee health? Take this short quiz to find out if it’s time to see a doctor.
About the author
William Kemp Montgomery, MD
William Montgomery, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – McKinney and Baylor Scott & White Sports Therapy & Research at The Star. Get to know Dr. Montgomery today.