Knee implants for women

  Men and women have very different knee shapes and sizes, yet most implants are designed for male comfort. And given the number of women who suffer from osteoarthritis, gender-specific knee implants are the need of the hour, suggests  Dr J V Srinivas  .

Arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis, can be debilitating if not attended to before it is too late. It is one of the biggest reasons for disability among the elderly population, but nowadays younger people are also being diagnosed with osteoarthritis. With a changing way of life that includes a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet that promotes obesity and lack of exercise, almost 50 per cent of Indians are said to be suffering from joint problems. According to studies, women are two times more likely to develop osteoarthritis, with the numbers increasing after 45 years of age.  
   It starts with aches and pains in the joint and progresses to complete immobility in the most severe cases. For women diagnosed with osteoarthritis, it can come as a big hindrance to a normal social life. They cannot stand for more than a few minutes, cannot bend their knees while sitting and cannot squat on the floor. And as the disease progresses, the pain becomes quite unbearable.

Injury, wear and tear, arthritis, excessive weight on the joints because of obesity, and other conditions can damage the cartilage that cushions the joints of the knee and this causes them to rub against each other resulting in pain and discomfort. Total knee replacement or total knee arthroplasty is a surgical procedure to replace the damaged weight-bearing surfaces of the knee joint to relieve the pain and disability. The diseased part of the knee is replaced with an implant that is made of metal and plastic components. According to the National Institutes of Health, nine out of ten patients who undergo the procedure report improved pain relief, knee function and overall health-related quality of life.

Women and men are very different when it comes to the shape and size of their knees, but most of the conventional knee replacements do not address this difference. They are modelled on an average shape and design and women might find them bulkier and uncomfortable, in terms of movement. In fact, there are two major differences between the body structure of men and women, which warrants the use of gender-specific implants. 

Women have knees that are narrower than men’s, and their hips are wider, so the knees move differently. The angle between the hip and the knee affects how the kneecap moves over the thighbone when the knee is in motion. Women have a distinct shape, which frequently results in a different angle between the hip and the knee when compared to men. Secondly, the bone in the front of a woman’s knee is typically less prominent than a man’s. Traditional implants have a thickness in front that makes them bulky and too uncomfortable for movement in women. 

A gender-specific knee implant takes this difference in its stride and makes necessary adjustments, and as a result, the patient gets a more natural movement. In an implant designed for women this glitch is taken care of and therefore any kind of work including gardening, lifting things, sitting and even squatting become easier. Since many women are now opting for knee replacement surgery to alleviate pain, knee implants, designed keeping women in mind, are the need of the hour.
(The writer is a consultant orthopaedic and knee replacement surgeon, Fortis Hospitals, Bangalore)

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