USA Weekend May 14 - 16, 1999 page 8


Bad knees never had it so good

8 new therapies are ready to help;
more are on the way

by Tamar Asedo Sherman

Quick twists and turns on the tennis or basketball court make the game more exciting, but sudden changes in direction can wreak havoc on your knees. Hosts of runners, cyclists and soccer plaers will accidentally damage their knees this summer, forcing them to opt for less strenuous activities.

In fact, each year 5 million Americans seek treatment for knee injureis. Bad knees are the No. 2 health complaint of your people, right behind bad backs.

luckily, new techniques offer athletes and others hope for knee repair and relief. You may want to ask your doctor about ehse recent advances.

  1. Lube it.

    Hyauluronic acid (HA), a natural fluid injected directly into the knee lubricates and cushions the knee to ease pain from osteoarthritis, a result of previous injury or excessive wear and tear.

  2. Shrink it.

    Thermal shrinkage repairs the most common knee injury, ACL tears, with a radio frequency probe that heats a ligament and shortens it, like meat on a barbecue. This same technology is used to realign kneecaps.

  3. Implant it.

    Cartilage tissue is surgically removed from the patient's knee, cultured by Genzyme Tissue Repair in Cambridge, Mass., for several weeks, then implanted into the patient's knee.

  4. Plug it.

    Cartilage plugs are taken from another part of the knee and transplanted to the damaged weight-bearing area, "like a hair transplant for the knee," says Jeffrey L. Halbrecht of the Institute for Arthroscopy and Sports Medicine in San Francisco.

  5. Transplant it.

    A meniscal tissue transplant promises to solve one of the most common knee problems. Damage to the thin cushion of cartilage called the menisucs under the kneecap is affectionately called "runner's knee." This new hour-long office procedure can give a patient a healthy, if slightly used, meniscus from a deceased donor.

  6. Rivet it.

    Dissolving tacks like rivets repair small tears in the meniscus without the need to retrieve sutures. The tack is shot inot place arthroscopically.

  7. Stretch it.

    New bone growth techniques, which allow orthopedists to compensate for bone loss and limb length discrepancies in people who have suffered severe injuries or birth defects, also can be used to realign arthritic knees.

  8. Filter it.

    In March, the federal Food and Drug Administration approved a machine to filter antibodies from the blood of patients with rheumatoid arthitis (an auto-immune disease that afflicts 2 million Americans, mostly young women). The Prosorba column, made by Cypress Bioscience, works like dialysis.

Hot to avoid knee injuries

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons advises:


Polyurethane, the hard plastic in countless everyday objects, may prove to be a way to end knee paind avoid costly and difficult knee replacement.

How? Polyurethane is injected into the knee; it hardens in the joint and creates a spacer to separate the two raw bone surfaces, relieving pain, explains Jeffrey L. Halbrecht, M.D. of the Institute for Arthroscopy and Sports Medicine in San Francisco.

He compared the technique to filling a cavity in a tooth.

Initial trials, conducted in Europe, indicate the pain relief could last for years.

For more information on the new procedures and for tips on knee bealth, go to