We have an epidemic of knee arthritis in the United States with over 10 million affected Americans (Ref). Many treatments are prescribed with variable efficacy for this common problem. When all else fails, knee replacement is often recommended. This procedure is overall highly successful but also expensive.
In 2009, the CDC reported the estimated costs of knee replacement in the US to be $28.5 billion dollars (Ref). Published reports suggest there will be a need for almost 3.5 million knee replacements in the United States by 2030 (See paper). At a conservative total cost of $25,000 per surgery, that translates into $87 billion dollars. So, the projections suggest the costs will triple over the next 15 years.
That is $87 Billion Dollars just in the United States to treat end-stage knee arthritis. That is just the cost of knee replacements. It does not include other surgical or non-operative costs. It also doesn't include treatment of other potentially arthritic joints such as the hip or shoulder.
We can and should immediately begin an all-in assault against arthritis.
Patients need to act on the first line of treatment. They can help themselves with a program of diet and exercise. Simple exercises such as the QuadCrunch and Hamstring Stretching can be quite helpful. Riding a bike is another way to exercise with arthritic knees. Losing even a small amount of weight can result in less pain and more function.
The good news is many new treatments are in development to treat this difficult problem. The bad news is the effort is fractionated. It is important to note that knee arthritis is not simply a disease of the cartilage. There is dysfunction in muscle, tendon, ligament, cartilage and bone when a patient has arthritis. A better understanding of the genetic and epigenetic causes of arthritis is also needed. We will need a systematic approach to treating all of the components of the disease in order to be successful.
On the horizon are a plethora of biologic treatments including platelet rich plasma, stem cells and even gene therapy. We need to embrace these novel treatments do the hard work that is needed to prove their safety and value.
A coalition of patients, providers, payers, researchers and industry need to come together and execute on potential treatments and prevention strategies. We cannot afford to continue with the status quo and spend almost $90 Billion Dollars on knee replacements in 2030.
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