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Is knee replacement surgery the only answer?

ORLANDO, Fla. – By 2023, total knee replacement surgeries are projected to grow to 3.5 million procedures per year. 

While nearly half of all American adults develop knee osteoarthritis in at least one knee during their lifetime, is replacement surgery the only answer? How can you determine if you've reached that point? 

Some experts are now questioning if knee replacement surgery is being done too soon on patients, before they've had a chance to explore other options. 

"We're seeing arthritis at an earlier age. So, having alternatives and ways to treat arthritis is important," said Dr. Mathew Pombo, orthopedic surgeon at Emory Orthopaedics and Spine Center.  
 
One option is losing weight. Sometimes this can significantly decrease knee pain. Pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs or corticosteroids are all less invasive treatment options than surgery. 

If those options aren't giving you results, get gel injections directly into the knee joint to lubricate it. Exercise and physical therapy should also be tried if you want to exhaust all other options first. 

"I think people have to weigh every option and what's best for themselves," Pombo said. 

Up to 20 percent of patients end up dissatisfied with the outcome of their surgical procedure. This is why it's vital you understand the clear benefits and harms of knee replacement surgery. Patients who've had the surgery said the recovery is no walk in the park. 

Around 12 percent of adults in the United States have painful arthritic knees that limit mobility, and each year more than 640,000 people have them replaced at a cost of well over $10 billion a year. 

Knee replacements last between 10 and 20 years, so delaying your surgery is sometimes your best option, experts said.