"All of the previous literature was on older patients, so we tried to recruit younger patients," Lombardi said.
Their work environments before knee surgery ranged from sedentary (desk-type work) to highly physical labor.
Although 98 percent of the study participants returned to work, 89 percent returned to the same work they performed prior to their knee surgery. Lombardi said the return-to-work rate for the more labor-intensive categories was especially notable. Ninety-seven percent were able to return to very heavy work, and 98 percent went back to heavy work. Ninety-five percent headed back to sedentary jobs, 91 percent returned to light jobs and 100 percent returned to medium-intensity work.
Men were significantly more likely than women to return to work, the study found.
"These studies show there is a cost savings to society," said Dr. John Tongue, president of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. "People are getting back to work. They can pay taxes instead of being on disability."
Each year, more than 650,000 people in the United States undergo knee replacement, according to the academy. That's twice the number performed a decade ago, Tongue said.
"Thirty years ago, people were scared to death of having this operation, but it is so effective that more people are getting it now," he said. "Their general health depends on it, and many are choosing to have it sooner than before. They are fighting for their mobility."
Orozco said half of his knee-replacement patients are under age 50.
"We are now reaching a population that is younger and actively working. Most have very arthritic knees and expect to go back to work," Orozco said. Better implant materials that support more weight, improved surgical techniques that spare muscle, and better post-surgery patient care plans -- including pain management and physical therapy -- have increased the popularity of knee replacement in recent years,
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