Joint replacement surgery is often a last resort for people with severe osteoarthritis, but even so millions of joint replacement surgeries are done annually in the US and the number is projected to rise to over 4 million by 2030.
There is a boom in treatments and therapies designed to help cartilage (and tendons and ligaments) regrow and heal including microfracture surgery, autologous blood injection (ABI), platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections, and stem cells injections and many medical experts are saying this is the future of medicine. I believe this is an exciting field and holds huge potential to help millions of Americans a year, but only if we treat the cause of the cartilage and ligament damage also.
The cause of injury and degeneration has been the elephant in the room for 30 years and our medical system just has not recognized and addressed it, and until they do the number of people suffering from pain, and especially chronic pain, will continue to rise. We forget that the body is a unit and everything happens for a reason. If your left knee starts becoming painful and you have it looked at by your doctor, they might tell you your cartilage is worn away and you have osteoarthritis. If it is severe, traditionally the recommendation would be knee replacement surgery. The problem with this is we forgot to ask "why did the knee become osteoarthritic?"
If you get the left knee replaced, the knee will often be pain free, but 6 months or 3 years later your other knee or hip or back will become painful. This pain is treated as a new issue rather than related to the original knee issue. You need to figure out why the original knee become a problem to start with.
The easy things to blame are your age (but then how old is your other knee?), genetics (but why is it only one knee?), past sports injury (but what caused that?), or your active life (if running for 30 years is the cause, why is it only one knee?). Common sense will usually eliminate these things from being the real cause and if we continue to ask thoughtful questions we can get to the root of the problem. The cause could be you played a lot of tennis in your youth and as a right handed player did a lot more loading of your left hip during serves and forehands which caused your left hip to get strong and tight compared to your right hip while the opposite was true of your upper body: your right arm and shoulder got overdeveloped compared to your left side. These imbalances continued to build and grow even after you quit playing tennis and took up running at 21 years old. Running for the next 20 or 30 years with postural and muscular imbalances caused an inefficient running gait and led to the eventual damage and pain in your left knee.
When the true cause of the problem can be identified and addressed often surgery can be avoided and future injuries and pain can be prevented.
The new treatments, like stem cell injections, that look to regrow cartilage will also fail if the underlying cause of the damage (postural imbalances) is not addressed. The dysfunctional movement patterns that caused the original damage will also wear away the new cartilage (either immediately or eventually) leaving the person back where they started. The only way to guarantee long term success of these exciting new treatments like stem cell injections and platelet rich plasma is to do postural alignment therapy before or in conjunction with these treatments.
We forget that the human body is constantly regrowing and healing its own cartilage which is why it grows stronger and denser with activity, but in the case of someone with postural imbalances the dysfunctional movement patterns are wearing the cartilage away faster than the body can heal it. The key to joint health is balanced upright posture.