Knee replacements typically last 10-15 years, which means in younger patients, they could face several more surgeries. There are new alternatives available for young active patients with which we are seeing great results.
Cartilage and meniscal transplantation
Athletes in their 20s and 30s who suffer knee injuries (torn ACL or meniscus) can be treated with great success. However, problems may occur five to ten years down the road that are a result of those injuries, and they are at increased risk for early osteoarthritis. These problems get in the way of the patient's active lifestyle. Cartilage or meniscal transplantations may be done to return these patients to their active lifestyles quicker and with less risk of complications, compared to total knee replacements using metal or plastic components. The procedure is done through tiny incisions, which facilitate recovery and involve less pain.
A piece of the patient's tissue - the size of a tic tac - is taken from his or her knee and that tissue is sent to a lab in Massachusetts where the cells are grown and expanded. A few weeks later once the cells have grown, we transplant the expanded patient's cells back in the knee. After a few months, the cells grow within the patient's knee with properties similar to those of the original cartilage, repairing the injury and avoiding total knee replacement. The body is really great at healing itself, we just need to help guide it along.
Some patients donate their cartilage when they pass away. This is a source of natural tissue with which young, active damaged knees may be replaced.
Platelet Rich Plasma
Platelet Rich Plasma (PRPs) and stem cells are also potential sources for cartilage transplantation, to reduce inflammation, enhance tissue regeneration and curb tissue degeneration.
Partial Knee Replacement
When there is significant wear on one aspect of the knee, an overnight procedure may be done called a Partial (Uni-compartmental) Knee Replacement, which involves limited pain and rapid recovery compared to a total knee replacement.
From the Patient's Perspective
One of my patients came to me because he felt he was too young for major knee surgery. Here's his story:
Click to watch WSVN 7 segment with our patient Blake McCormack
Learn more about Dr. McCormick from his physician profile: Francis McCormick, MD. For information on Holy Cross's Sports Medicine program, visit HolyCrossOrthopedics.com.