Ask Dr. Breien: How Long Will A Knee Implant Last?

Dr. Breien explains how patients have some control over the life of their knee implant.

knee implant

Osteoarthritis affects an estimated 27 million Americans. Although the risk of developing this disease increases with age, it is not a disease confined to the elderly. At Summit, we treat patients in their 20s and 30s for osteoarthritic conditions. When conservative treatments fail and patients consider a knee replacement, they want to know how long they can expect their knee implant to last.

Knee implants are like cars; mileage may vary

Knee surgeon Dr. Kristoffer Breien explains that implant longevity varies from person to person. “I ask my patients, ‘If you buy a new car for your mom, and a new car for your son, which car will last longer?’ How good those cars are going to look in five years is all a matter of how you treat them. A knee implant is very similar. When you get it, it’s brand new. It just rolled off the lot. How it will perform in 10 or 20 years is a question of how you treat it and what you do with it. A knee implant in a 40-year-old runner is probably going to wear out faster than the same implant in a 65-year-old who enjoys strolling in the evening.”

There are some general predictors about how long a knee implant will last

“Data tell us that knee replacements in 30-year-olds are going to last 12 to 15 years,” says Dr. Breien. “On the other hand, knee replacements in 70-year-olds will probably last until they are 100. Why? Because an implant in an older person will generally be subjected to less load or aggressive activity.”

Three factors play the largest role in knee implant longevity

“Weight, activity, and implant type have the most significant impact on how long a knee replacement will last,” says Dr. Breien. “Weight and activity matter most. We try to dissuade people from doing a lot of running and jumping. Low-impact exercise, on the other hand, is fine. Do as much elliptical work, bicycling, rollerblading, cross-country skiing, or swimming as you like. Those are low-impact activities.

“It’s true that I’ll let some of my older knee replacement patients play doubles tennis, pickleball, and racquetball,” admits Dr. Breien. “That’s because these are social sports. There’s not that much running. But I’m talking about these sports the way a 65-year-old would play them. A 25-year-old patient would be a different story. The sport may be the same, but the way the game is played is different. It’s the speed you use and the number of times you hit the wall that matters to your implant. I know that a 25-year-old is going to be more likely to dive for the ball. If you need to run and jump, you can. But you are going to wear out your implant faster.”

Setting reasonable expectations

“We tell patients to expect 20 to 25 years on their new knee,” says Dr. Breien. “You may have more time if your activity level doesn’t put demands on your implant. For patients who are at least 60 years of age, a knee replacement will probably last for a lifetime.

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  • Kristoffer Breien, M.D.

    “I tend to be more conservative in my approach, reserving surgery as a last option. In essence, I strive to care for patients and their problems in the same manner my family and I expect to be treated when we seek medical attention.”

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