Knee osteotomy for arthritis sufferers could save 10,000 joint replacements annually

A knee realignment operation should be offered to arthritis sufferers instead of invasive joint replacement surgery, according to experts. Surgeons have proposed that one in ten of the 100,000 knee replacements performed on the NHS each year could be osteotomy surgery instead.

This procedure has a number of benefits, including being cheaper than the traditional solution. By grafting a piece of bone into the top of the tibia, pressure on the knee is relieved and the resulting arthritis pain is reduced. Despite the improvements, the joint remains intact.

Matt Dawson, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon who practises in Newcastle, Penrith and Lancaster, told MailOnline: “At the moment, there are about 3,000 knee osteotomy operations carried out both privately and on the NHS each year in the UK, but we think that up to 10,000 patients could benefit.”

Some one million GP appointments are used to discuss knee arthritis every year, with cartilage on the joint wearing thin, leading to friction and subsequently pain. The individual experiences swelling and stiffness that makes mobility and living independently more difficult.

While in some cases, the wearing away of cartilage is due to a natural misaligning of the joint, in others it’s down to arthritis and wear and tear over time. Surgeons are keen not to perform multiple knee replacements on the same patient, as scar tissue is likely to limit mobility after the second or third operation.

Mr Dawson added: “If the condition does worsen further down the line, they could go on to have a knee replacement. But if you catch patients early enough, before their arthritis has become very bad, then you might nip the problems in the bud – meaning they won't ever have to have an implant.”

Interestingly, osteotomy isn’t a new concept, although the techniques have improved since it was first carried out in the 19th century. Right up to the 1960s, it was used to treat arthritic knees, but when joint replacements came in the procedure went out of favour, but it could be time to explore its potential once more.

According to the NHS, there are millions of people in the UK living with arthritis. While there are two main types - osteoarthritis and rheumatoid - there are actually around ten other variations that are commonly diagnosed.

The pain associated with arthritis can often make it difficult for individuals to carry out everyday tasks and live independently. Exploring non-invasive solutions could be life changing for some sufferers.

Photo credit: Pixabay/Dr Manuel González Reyes