Synthetic cartilage helping Colorado arthritis patients

Doctors say Cartiva could be 'game changer'

LONE TREE, Colo. -- More than 54 million Americans suffer from arthritis, and now a first-of-its-kind synthetic cartilage implant is giving many new hope. 

"I love to bike, but I had actually stopped biking," said Julie Richman, a Colorado Springs business owner, who dealt for years with pain from arthritis in her big toe, a condition known as Hallux Rigidus. "Putting weight on the toe and trying to move in my shoe while biking was just very painful."

In fact, four months ago, Richman said, she could barely walk without severe, chronic pain.

"It hurt constantly, like an aching or throbbing kind of feeling in my toe joint," said Richman.

Surgeons told her the only option was to fuse the joint, but that procedure would limit her mobility.

That's when she heard about a newly FDA-approved synthetic cartilage called Cartiva, an implant made out of the same material as contact lenses, which acts as a cushion for the joint. 

"This is a very unique implant because of the material," said Dr. Kenneth Hunt, an orthopedic surgeon with UCHealth Lone Tree Health Center.

Studies show it allows patients to keep mobility and reduce pain by 91 percent.

Right now, the implant is only approved for use in the big toe, but in Europe, Cartiva is being used to treat thumbs and knees, and it's being tested on use for the smaller toes and thumb, with longer-term potential for the ankle, elbow and shoulder.

"I could see this applying to the knee and the hip and even potentially to the spine. The key is to get the good science behind it," said Hunt.

It has been three months since Hunt operated on Richman's toe, and she said she now has virtually no pain.

"I think it's a very effective procedure," said Richman. "I think it's the wave of the future, really."

Now, she is back on her bike for the first time in years and said she hopes this technology will help others with arthritis get their lives back.

"I'm a more active, healthy person," said Richman. "I'm happy to be the poster gal for it. I think it's great!"

Big-toe arthritis is the most common arthritic condition in the foot and said to affect 1 in 40 people older than 50, or roughly 2.7 million people in the U.S.

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