The Caseloads of South Africa’s Hip Specialists Are Increasin
The increased demand for the attention of hip specialists is not just a local phenomenon. All over the developed world, more and more patients are now presenting with conditions that can only be treated effectively by means of specialised joint surgery. While still in need of specialised orthopaedic surgery, a proportion of these patients only require relatively minor attention. Most often, the need is for the treatment of injuries to the knee, such as a torn meniscus or damage to an anterior cruciate ligament, both of which are common among those who participate in sports. For the bulk of those experiencing joint problems, however, it is rather due to lack of exercise that they require the attention of knee and hip specialists.
Our joints are subjected to a great deal of wear and tear during the course of a lifetime and, under normal circumstances, their remarkable design enables them to resist its effects for at least the first six decades or so of life. Just how long a joint will continue to function fully is determined to a large degree by the strength of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that act collectively to stabilise them and minimise any risk of damage.
While many people do make a serious attempt to maintain or even to increase the strength of their joints, either by paying regular visits to the gym, cycling, jogging, or just going for long walks, the vast majority do not. Furthermore, while jobs were more physically demanding in the past, many of today’s employees spend their days seated at a desk and simply transfer their weight to a sofa when at home. It is largely these individuals who have been responsible for the escalating caseloads experienced by hip specialists in recent years.
At one time, it was almost exclusively patients in their sixties who required more radical procedures, such as a total or partial joint replacement, but this is no longer the case. The average age of those patients requiring arthroplasty has been falling in recent years with the result that many subjects in their fifties and even younger are now candidates for these procedures. It is therefore fortunate that the advances in technology and surgical techniques that are now available to the orthopaedic surgeons of today are now helping to cope with the increased pressure on hip specialists to perform effective interventions.
One of the tools that have proved to be of particular value under these exceptional circumstances is the arthroscope. This comparatively simple device, based on similar scopes employed for use in other internal examinations, provides the surgeon with a real-time view of the interior of a joint and all of the surrounding tissues. Initially employed as a diagnostic tool where X-ray images proved inconclusive, it has since been adopted for use in keyhole surgery. While this arthroscopic surgical technique is most widely used as a means to perform simple repairs to the membranes and soft tissues surrounding a joint, in the hands of an experienced hip specialist, it can offer a far less invasive approach when performing a joint replacement.
In practice, rather than simply waiting until eventually finding oneself on the waiting list of one of the nation’s orthopaedic surgeons, we should really be doing much more to conserve the health of our joints. Those whose jobs pose little in the way of a physical challenge need to ensure that they get enough exercise in other ways. In addition, the current epidemic of obesity not only carries the heightened risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, but it is also adding to the strain on joints that are already weakened through inactivity.
Whether conducted by hip specialists or cardiovascular surgeons, all surgery entails risks, and can even intensify pain for a while, so it might be a good idea to reconsider the gym membership and cut out the junk food.