One of the main things to deteriorate as you get older is your knees. They may cause you pain and make it more difficult for you to move around. There are a number of treatments you can try to increase your mobility. But are they really necessary, or are they just adding to your healthcare costs?
In many cases, doctors will prescribe knee patients with a pill for the pain—most often acetaminophen. They may also provide regular injections to keep it lubricated. Other injections include steroids to build knee strength back up. However, recent studies have found that in many cases, these treatments have little effect, if any.
Acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) has hardly any effect at all. Other pills work better, but even they don’t produce as good of results as a simple placebo, whether it’s a sugar pill or a salt water injection.
Lubricating or steroidal injections often work better than pills, but they still only treat the symptoms, rather than the root problem, and so are less effective in the long run. For most patients, the answer is knee replacement surgery.
Knee Replacement Surgery
Of course, whether or not treatments work varies depending on the patient. Surgery is not always necessarily the right treatment in every case. However, often, knee replacement surgery does turn out to be the answer and is more effective than pills and injections. The longer you put off the surgery, the worse the knees get, in spite of other treatments.
The problem is, most health insurance companies are reluctant to approve a surgery before other options have been tried and failed. So instead, doctors are forced to prescribe these other treatments, accruing excess healthcare costs in the process.
Recent studies have shown that two-thirds of knee patients were given some other treatment before being approved for surgery, and the total cost of non-surgical knee treatments over the course of a year was around $43 million. They’re overused, expensive, and may not even be effective—and yet they’re continually used in place of treating the root problem.
Other Knee Treatments
Of course, as stated earlier, knee replacement surgery isn’t always the right answer, and in some cases, there might be other options worth exploring before the patient goes under the knife. So what non-surgical knee treatments are effective?
Physical therapy has been shown to be more beneficial in building knee strength than steroidal injections. Exercise works too, as long as it doesn’t put a strain on the knees. Swimming and cycling, for example, work well in that regard. Weight loss can also be helpful in reducing stress on the knees.
For pain relief, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen can be helpful, as can certain opioids, such as tramadol. However, those treatments are only prescribed in 11% of cases. The rest of the time, it’s something more expensive and less effective. If only these recommended treatments were used before knee surgery, medical costs could be reduced by around 45%.
If you suffer from knee problems, talk to your doctor about possible treatments. Look into physical therapy and proven effective pain relievers, and see if there’s a surgical option that would be both beneficial and covered by your health insurance. By understanding the problem and treating it quickly and effectively, you can save a lot of money, as well as a lot of pain. Your knees are very important to your health and your mobility. It’s very important that you treat them right.