If you're over 50 and experiencing some joint problems the chances are quite good that your doctor will one day soon sit you down and propose knee replacement surgery, which comes with a serious risk of a venous thromboembolism. More on that later.

In fact...

Between 1971 and 2003 knee replacements skyrocketed by 400%. That amounts to 638,000 replacement surgeries in 2003 alone. The surgeries are being performed on younger patients, which is helping to drive those numbers up, and one recent Finnish study is even estimating an additional 673% increase in the surgeries, in that country at least, by 2030.

Now a new report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is finally starting to raise some red warning flags about an unanticipated side effect.

A killer blood clot could be in your future

According to the new research it turns out that about one in 100 people who have knee replacement surgery will experience a potentially deadly blood clot called a venous thromboembolism before they leave the hospital.

Now correct me if I'm wrong, but that means that at least 6,380 people got a new knee and a blood clot to go right along with it in 2003 alone. Yes, I'd call that quite a red flag.

But wait, it gets worse.

While the researchers from the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University Hospital of Lausanne in Switzerland who gathered the blood clot data do freely admit that the one in 100 figure might not be a true reflection of the problem, they also appear to completely miss one critically important point.

Notice that I said "before they leave the hospital."

The 47 studies that the Swiss team analyzed and based their estimates on only recorded blood clots that occurred during hospitalization. Since clots can occur long after surgery...in fact, up to six weeks later with knee surgery...that means that they're likely missing out on a whole heck of a lot of clots.

Pain-relief options may save you from surgery

Let's face it, one in 100 is already a frighteningly large number. (I shudder to think just how big the real number is.)

But when you consider that there are often no warning signs and that clots can break off and head for the lungs...well...it's easy to see what a disaster- waiting-to-happen all of those hundreds of thousands of surgeries a year actually represent.

Now if you're already suffering from osteoarthritis I certainly don't have to tell you that the pain can be excruciating at times. And it's that very same pain that can cause you to leap...or perhaps I should say hobble...towards the chance for a surgery that could relieve it.

But it's precisely this tendency to leap before looking when we're in pain that could be dangerous and, in this case, even deadly. It's important that you fully understand your risks as well as your options before you agree to go under the knife.

And, perhaps not so coincidentally, the majority of these "try these first" options are the same steps you'd be given to prepare yourself for a knee replacement surgery.

  • Drop the extra pounds: For obvious reasons reducing the load on your knee joints can help ease the pain. And it's even entirely possible that just this one step could keep you off the operating table.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking affects blood flow patterns, impairs circulation, delays healing, raises your risk for blood clots, and can inhibit your recovery from surgery should you decide to have one. Plus studies show smokers perceive pain more acutely than non-smokers.
  • Keep moving: I know, exercise is the very last thing you feel like doing when you're in pain. But the truth is gentle movement of the painful joint will help you stay mobile, will provide endorphin-driven pain relief, and, if you do elect to have surgery, will help speed your recovery. Try walking or, my favorite, swimming.
  • Try supplements: Omega-3 fatty acids, like those in fish oil, have been found to be an effective anti-inflammatory (just be sure to zap any free radicals with some additional vitamin E), while ginger, curcumin, and passion fruit extract have all shown pain-relieving promise. And arthritis pain has been shown in some cases to respond to a course of B3 or B6 (check with a naturopath for a personalized plan).

Keep in mind that knee replacement surgery with its potentially deadly side effects, like a venous thromboembolism, should never be a first- or even a second-choice option. In fact, it should only be seen as a last resort.

Why not find a naturopath who can help you with a personalized pain management plan before you opt for the knife?

To find a doctor in your area who is skilled in natural medicine visit the American College for the Advancement in Medicine website at www.acam.org or contact them by calling 949-309-3520 or 1-800-532-3688.