Knee Replacement Specialists Are Changing Lives on a Daily Basis
It is not too long since anyone diagnosed with osteoarthritis could have looked forward to a life of gradually increasing pain controlled, at first, with the aid of prescription painkillers and, later, by steroid injections, eventually resulting in the affected joint becoming completely immobilised. Where a hip or a knee might have been involved, before the advent of joint replacement specialists, such patients would have eventually become largely reliant on a wheelchair for their mobility.
During the course of the past few decades, however, the long-term prospects for a patient suffering from osteoarthritis have vastly improved and while it is still the accepted practice to treat the symptoms with painkillers and steroids for as long as they provide effective relief, once this is no longer the case, advances in surgery have led to the development of arthroplasty. This innovative procedure has now enabled knee replacement specialists to restore pain-free mobility in osteoarthritis sufferers by implanting a partial or total prosthetic joint.
The first attempt at a prosthetic joint was in 1860, and although there were those with the necessary surgical skills for such an undertaking, the materials available from which to fashion the implanted components simply lacked the qualities needed to provide a lasting solution. Nevertheless, once the feasibility was established, materials science eventually produced the improved materials needed by knee replacement specialists to offer their patients new hope.
The first hinge-joint was implanted by a German surgeon named Themistocles Gluck and was made from ivory. Sadly, it became damaged quite quickly once required to support the unfortunate patient’s weight. Between 1951 and 1958, prosthetic joints of acrylic material and later of cobalt and chrome showed a marked improvement, but they were still subject to early failure. It was in the 1960s that the first successful metal-on-polyethylene hip joint inspired the use of these materials by knee replacement specialists and this was followed by a succession of further improvements that have served to make arthroplasty the most successful intervention in the history of orthopaedic surgery to date.
While new materials such as stainless steel, titanium, plastics, and ceramics, used in various combinations, have all led to the constriction of prosthetic joints with improved mobility and greater resistance to wear and tear, other factors have also contributed to the success of arthroplasty. Over the years, knee replacement specialists have also modified the geometry of these prostheses in order to increase the area of the articulating surfaces, in order to better distribute the load and thus minimise the effect of a patient’s day-to-day activities on the implanted components.
However, there has been one development that has, perhaps, been even more instrumental in improving the procedure for both surgeons and patients. This was the invention of the arthroscope. This simple device first enabled the surgeon to view a magnified image of the internal structure of a joint, but its use was soon adapted by knee replacement specialists to monitor the movements of instruments within the joint, thus making it possible for them to employ keyhole techniques to insert a femorotibial prosthesis, rather than being required to expose the entire joint. The use of the arthroscopic procedure requires greater skill on the part of the surgeon, but can help to reduce the risk of infection and bleeding, while also leading to faster post-operative recovery times and it is, therefore, widely perceived as a preferred option.
In South Africa, one of the leaders among the nation’s knee replacement specialists is responsible for establishing and heading up the orthopaedic team that operates from the Life Wilgers Hospital in Pretoria. Recognised as a centre of excellence, the unit offers a comprehensive range of arthroplastic procedures for which it attracts numerous referrals, both from within the republic and from several overseas countries.