More Patients Seek Knee, Hip Replacements in Middle Age: Surgeon

Knee and hip replacements are traditionally considered to be surgeries considered later in life, but more and more, younger patients are seeking out the procedures, according to a Chicago-area surgeon. 

44-year-old Jolene Noel is one such patient, as she had both of her knees replaced in a pair of 2016 surgeries. 

Dr. Richard Berger, Rush University Medical Center Assistant Professor of Orthopaedics, performed the surgery, but had some concerns before his patient went under the knife. 

“He looked at me and said, ‘Young lady, you need two new knees,’ and I said, “Aren’t you concerned? Aren’t you concerned about how young I am? and he said, “Absolutely not. It’s quality of life," Noel recalled. 

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Now Noel teaches up to 15 fitness classes a week.

“I teach Zumba and I teach kick boxing and I teach yoga and Pilates,” Noel said. “Honestly I have to think about the fact that I have two fake knees.”

Noel's case isn't unique, according to Dr. Berger, who says that more and more patients are considering the surgery earlier in life. 

“There are a lot of studies now that say sooner you get the surgery, the easier recovery is and the more complete recovery it is,” Dr. Berger said, who performs 1,500 surgeries a year.

He described how he uses a minimally-invasive approach that is different from traditional joint replacement.

“What I do is make small incisions, very small cuts, and slip the pieces in. So there’s very little trauma associated with it,” Dr. Berger explained.

 Amy Ferranti, 46, had her right knee replaced by Dr. Berger after several ACL tears.

“I was shocked at how quickly it was done and they have you walking out of surgery the same day, like a few hours later,” Ferranti said. “I wish I had done it sooner."

Ferranti recently completed the Chicago Triathlon in August.

“After completing the triathlon, actually my left knee hurt more than this replaced one,” Ferranti said.

 “The most common thing people tell me, besides they waited too long, is thank you for my life back,” Dr. Berger added. 

That’s how Fred Hoff feels. After suffering through debilitating pain for eight years, the 49 year old had his hip replaced in 2018 and couldn’t be happier.

“I am just as fast as I was in my 20’s and 30’s, I can squat with weights, I play tennis as much as  I want,” Hoff said.

 The typical replacement last 15 to 20 years, so patients who are middle age will likely need another surgery down the road.

“It’s really just replacing the piece of cartilage they put in there, so it’s really like a tune up. That’s what they called it,” Ferranti said.

Noel said future surgery would be worth it for the mobility she has now.

“Most people try to avoid having it as long as possible and you just don’t have to live in that pain,” Noel said.

Dr. Berger says the average age of his patients is 52 years old. The average age for joint replacements has dropped nationally and that trend is expected to continue.

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