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Average age of degenerative joint disease patients declines

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The average age of degenerative joint disease patients has been dropping as the popularity of jogging and mountain climbing has risen in recent years, an orthopedist recently pointed out.

Yu Jia-wei (游家偉), an orthopedist at Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, estimated that there are around 3.5 million Taiwanese who suffer from the joint disorder also known as osteoarthritis.

Yu said that in the past, degenerative joint disease was usually found in retirees aged around 60-70. In recent years, middle-aged patients have begun to come to hospitals for help. Due to their younger age and longer life expectancy, patients often replace their knees with artificial ones.

Knees have an expiration date and need to be used sparingly, Yu said. The doctor continued by saying that if people start their running habits in their 20s and overuse their knees for 10-20 years, their knees will suffer from severe damage and functional degradation, and that's why health products such as glucosamine have become so popular.

Lu Shao-rui (呂紹睿), the chairman of Taichung Tzu Chi Health Promotion Center of the Knee, indicated that workers who bend their knees over 50 degrees for too long will possibly suffer from degenerative joint disease. Even office workers spending too much time sitting can be in danger, he added.

Liu Hwa-chang (劉華昌), a professor of orthopedics in Taiwan Adventist Hospital, indicated that degenerative joint disease has become the main disease in orthopedic out-patient departments, with 30-40 percent of patients suffering from the condition.

According to statistics of the National Health Insurance Administration (NHIA), from 2009-2011, about 20,000 people underwent surgery to implant artificial knees, and the number of related surgeries has been increasing by more than 1,000 every year.

Among the patients, 2.7 percent of them are under 55 years old, 16 percent are between 56 and 65, 42 percent are between 75 and 85 and 4 percent are above 86. In 2011, National Health Insurance paid around NT$1.1 billion for the artificial knees themselves, and around NT$1.5 billion for surgeries, the NHIA revealed.

Yu stated that the key to slow the degradation of the knees is to exercise appropriately, such as jogging 3,000-5,000 meters every day. If one's knees start to hurt, remember not to squat, climb mountains or stairs. To prevent degenerative joint disease, people should avoid activities that may damage the cartilage of the knees, Yu said.

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