Orthopaedic disorders, which affect bones and joints, are the single largest source of pain and disability globally. The World Health Organisation says that such diseases are responsible for half the chronic conditions affecting people over 50 in the developing world. The unavoidable process of ageing leads to wear and tear on weight bearing joints such as hips and knees; in other words, the joints in question are simply worn out. In fact, bone and joint conditions are the major cause of years lived with disability in all continents and economies, and are the most common medical causes of long-term absence from work. In Sweden, up to 60% of people on early retirement or long-term sick leave cite musculoskeletal problems as the reason1.
Obviously, such conditions place a considerable strain on sufferers, their carers and on healthcare systems generally; they also keep large numbers of people from being fully active members of society. Given the demographic challenge of an ageing population, Europe will be particularly impacted by these conditions in the coming years.
There are a number of conditions which cause particular problems. Nearly 25% of people in Europe have some form of rheumatism or arthritis2; they are the commonest chronic illnesses in Europe. Osteoporosis is another problem; this is a disease whereby the bone becomes porous and brittle, losing much of its structural strength and leading to a high risk of hip and wrist fractures. It is a progressive disease, with the elderly - especially women - and those with a family history of the disease being particularly likely to be sufferers. Again, Europe’s ageing population makes this disease a growing concern. Estimates suggest that 40% of all women over the age of 50 will suffer an osteoporotic fracture3.
Often, the treatment pathway in these conditions ends with replacement of the joint; total knee and hip replacements are now relatively commonplace. Joint replacement is an area of major activity in medical technology, as manufacturers strive to improve techniques and technology to speed and improve recovery, increase device life and reduce overall care costs.