Aspen doctors employing new type of healing touch |

Aspen doctors employing new type of healing touch

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Joint therapy is big business in Aspen.

Consider the area’s dedication to recreation. Skiing, riding, hiking, biking – they’re all local favorites, and they can each contribute to the deterioration of overused joints.

Aspenites stay active – sometimes risking joint health in the process.

“We’re now seeing degenerative joint disease in a lot of younger people because of the younger, active lifestyle [here],” said Barrie Harms, a nurse and the operating room director at Aspen Valley Hospital. “In this community, we have such an active population, and our physicians see a significant amount of younger patients with the degenerative disease.”

Normally, these younger patients would use physical therapy or medication to battle joint pain. An all-out joint replacement – especially those performed on the ball-and-socket hip joint – were primarily reserved for older patients.

But a recent approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – and a major advance in medical technology – could change the way local physicians treat joint pain.

The FDA recently approved a hip replacement technique that utilizes ceramic components to mimic nature’s ball-and-socket joint. Ceramics surpass the normal hip replacement materials, metal and plastic, in durability, making it much more desirable to patients and physicians alike.

A 52-year-old local man received AVH’s first ceramic-on-ceramic hip replacement prosthesis on Monday. The man spent a little over an hour in surgery as Dr. Tom Pevny, a physician with Aspen’s Orthopaedic Associates, along with colleague Dr. Thomas St. John, performed the procedure – only the fifth performed in the state.

The prosthesis arrived at AVH just last week, Pevny said. In a few more weeks, it will hopefully ease its user’s osteoarthritis.

“In the standard total hip replacement, we would use metal on plastic, where the ball would be metal and the socket would be plastic. But that plastic, microscopically, will wear over time,” said Pevny.

This wear and tear usually occurs 10 to 15 years after the hip replacement, Pevny said, which is why it’s never been a feasible choice for younger joint pain sufferers. Patients who receive this type of prosthesis too early run the risk of a prosthesis replacement later in life.

The ceramic prosthesis, however, easily surpasses the 15-year life span of its predecessor.

“This procedure is done primarily – really, solely – on younger patients, because the life of the implant is expected to be for the rest of the patient’s life,” Harms said.

The ceramic-on-ceramic joint replacement isn’t for everyone, Pevny said – the procedure is a bit more costly than the usual joint pain treatment, and that extra cost is usually absorbed by the patient, not the insurance company. However, Pevny and his colleagues believe the new technique could save cash in the long run – especially for younger patients at risk for multiple procedures.

“I think it’s certainly a worthwhile investment,” Pevny said. “[The new prosthesis] probably won’t last forever, but many people can eliminate the need to have a revision total hip replacement.”

Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is

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