Housecleaning can be tough on your knees, as a local homeowner was reminded when she overheard her cleaning woman on her cell phone, discussing an upcoming knee replacement procedure. “I wanted one of those feminine knees,” the woman declared, “not some big honkin’ masculine knee.”
Can you really choose your own knee, the way you choose your schnoz when you have a nose job? Not exactly, says Robert Young, an orthopedic surgeon at St. Joe’s specializing in knee replacements.
One manufacturer of spare knee parts, Zimmer, began marketing what it calls “gender-specific knee replacements” three or four years ago. “As a general rule, men’s knees tend to be a bit wider,” Young says. But Zimmer’s girl knees, which are a bit narrower and “taller,” didn’t exactly revolutionize the market. “Patients do come into our offices and ask about these things,” Young says. “She may have read [about it] in a magazine. A somewhat troubling aspect of modern medicine is that there is direct marketing to patients.”
Young himself uses the Zimmer knee in about 10 to 15 percent of his patients, but not because they look more feminine. “We’re probably getting into too much detail,” he says as the conversation goes into his criteria for selecting knee implants, which have to do with “trabecular metals” and whether the implant is “cruciate retaining” or “posterior stabilizing.”
Young says some U-M surgeons, including Brian Hallstrom and Karl Schultz, also use the gender-specific knee when appropriate. So can he tell when he looks at a woman whether her doctor used a gender-specific knee? “Only with an X-ray,” he says.