The Link Between Crohn's Disease And Knee Replacement Surgery

If you have Crohn's disease, you've likely come to expect random intestinal flare-ups and the diarrhea, cramping, fevers, and fatigue that come along with them. What you may not expect, though, is chronic knee pain. Knee pain is a common symptom of Crohn's disease and knee replacement surgery is often required to decrease the pain in and restore function to the knees.

The Risk Of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis occurs when a person's bones are weakened or lose density and become excessively porous. The condition most often affects the hips, wrists, and spine, but it can also affect the bones of the knees. As the knees become weakened by osteoporosis, they become painful and more apt to break or fracture. Those with Crohn's disease are susceptible to osteoporosis for the following reasons:

Inflammation-Induced Poor Nutrient Absorption. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, and calcium helps your body build and maintain strong and healthy bones. When your body doesn't get an ample supply of these nutrients, however, your bones can become weak and/or porous. 

During a Crohn's disease flare-up, portions of the intestine become irritated and inflamed. This inflammation most commonly takes place in the bottom of the small intestine where much of the body's nutritional absorption occurs. As such, the bodies of Crohn's disease sufferers oftentimes can't effectively absorb the necessary nutrients for strong and healthy bones, and they end up developing osteoporosis. 

Medication-Induced Poor Nutrient Absorption. Doctors often treat Crohn's disease flare-ups with anti-inflammatory medications known as corticosteroids. These drugs, while usually effective at relieving symptoms, have a variety of known side-effects, with one of those side-effects being the decreased ability for the body to absorb calcium or vitamin D.

As mentioned above, both of these nutrients are essential to healthy bone growth and regeneration, so those taking corticosteroids to treat Crohn's disease for an extended period of time are prone to developing steroid-induced osteoporosis.  

 As a Crohn's disease sufferer, you can help stave off osteoporosis in your knees by limiting the amount of time you're on corticosteroids, and by taking calcium and vitamin D supplements while you are on the steroids or while you're experiencing an intestinal flare-up. If however, these measures fail and you develop osteoporosis-induced chronic knee pain, visit an orthopedist to discuss knee replacement surgery. Knee replacements usually last longer than 10 years and effectively lessen pain in 90 percent of the people who get them.