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Hip replacement advancements help young and old alike

Tim Samoff
A double hip replacement.

More than 300,000 hip replacements are performed each year, and advancements in the surgery are giving hope to baby boomers who want to continue their active lives. Lorraine Rapp and Linda Lowen, hosts of WRVO's health and wellness show Take Care, recently spoke with Dr. Seth Greenky, a surgeon and co-director of the Joint Replacement Program at St. Joseph's Hospital about how hip replacements work, whether you're in your 20s or your 90s.

Lorraine Rapp: When we say “hip replacement,” what actually is being replaced?

Dr. Greenky: Well the hip is a ball and socket joint, so the most traditional is you replace the ball with a metal ball, and you replace the socket with a metal socket and a plastic liner. Now, there’s many variations of that traditional hip replacement that has sort of evolved over time, and the one that is most commonly used is called a surface replacement. And a surface replacement, instead of replacing the ball of the hip, you cover it with a new metal surface, almost like retreading a tire.

Linda Lowen: So what’s going on on that worn out surface that causes pain?

Dr. Greenky: The surface, when you’re young, is an incredibly advantageous mechanical system, where your body lubricates this ball and socket joint in an incredibly efficient manner. But, from an injury or from genetics, the surface of the joint, which is this very smooth, cartilage surface can get worn out over time. And what eventually happens is it gets completely worn out, and instead of a smooth, gliding surface covering the ball and socket, it becomes bone on bone. And when bone articulates on bone, it hurts.

Lorraine Rapp: What age group are you performing these surgeries on?

Dr. Greenky: You know, we used to only perform joint replacements on people over the age of 70. But as the techniques and materials have improved— there are people that are in their 20s that sometimes get them, all the way up to, my oldest person was 96.

Lorraine Rapp: What new surgical techniques have been developed? You mentioned that they’re using new materials.

Dr. Greenky: Well the materials are one thing that make it last longer and the techniques of doing it have improved the speed of recovery. The new materials are different forms of metal, like cobalt, chrome and titanium, and then ceramic and plastic. Not plastic like a container you’d store food in, but a high density plastic that has very good longevity.

Lorraine Rapp: Now you’ve mentioned that bad hips may run in families, so the question is, if you’re in your 30s, 40s or 50s, and it really hasn’t started yet, is there anything that you can do in your daily life to help stave off that arthritis?

Dr. Greenky: I think that if it’s truly genetic, what you’re staving off is the symptoms more than the process of it happening. But the way to stave off the symptoms, the way to stave off having to have something interventional done is, the fitter you are, the longer it’s going to take to develop symptoms. So, staying in shape, keeping your weight down, keeping your strength up are techniques to stave off the inevitability if it’s a genetic situation.

More of this interview can be heard on Take Care, WRVO's health and wellness show Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Support for this story comes from the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York.