ENCINITAS — Christopher Hajnik knows a thing about knee pain.
A member of the 1994 NCAA Championship fencing team at the University of Notre Dame, Hajnik’s struggle with knee pain dates back to his high school years, where he tore cartilage in his knees playing football.
During a subsequent knee surgery in his 20s, Hajnik said his orthopedic surgeon took him under his wing in advance of the procedure.
“The surgeon recognized my interest in medicine, and he let me come into the operating room,” Hajnik said. “It was really cool, because you could see a problem and the strategy to fix it.”
More than two decades later,
as he will host a free presentation Nov. 2 on treatment options for chronic knee and hip pain, which he said costs Americans $200 to $300 billion in direct costs and lost productivity.
“I take my role as an orthopedic surgeon very seriously, so when patients come to see me, my main goal is to create a happy patient,” said Hajnik, who also serves as the Carlsbad High School football team’s doctor. “I think there is a certain degree of mystery and misunderstanding out there (about chronic pain). More than 15 million Americans have severe arthritis, and it accounts for a huge financial burden on our country. Patients need to understand there are things they can do that are nonsurgical that help them not only feel better, but mean millions to our country in terms of productivity.”
Hajnik said his presentation will take aim at the rise in stem cell injections as treatment for arthritis, a treatment that he said has no scientifically proven benefits and costs patients thousands of dollars.
“What I am trying to do with my talk is to give patients a strategy to manage arthritis that is based on evidence, not by marketing or word-of-mouth type of discussions,” Hajnik said. “There are a lot of patients falling prey to some fly-by-night operations that promote stem cell injections as a miracle cure.
“While it shows promise, some of these blanket statements you’ve seen in newsprint and on the internet frankly amount to a snake-oil situation,” Hajnik said. “And it is frustrating when I see a patient come into my office and I look at an X-ray that shows severe arthritis and when discussing their symptoms I hear that they just had a stem cell injection a short time ago and have a bill of $3,000 to $6,000 for injections.”
Hajnik said that North County residents might be susceptible to falling prey to such treatments because they are well-educated and more open minded to alternative therapies than your average patient.
“I want to emphasize to people that while there is research on stem cells for some applications that are effective, it’s not a blanket endorsement,” Hajnik said. “There is no evidence yet to suggest that you can obtain stem cells … inject it into an arthritic knee and cure arthritis. We are just not there yet.”
Hajnik said he will discuss proven treatment methods for joint pain, everything from noninvasive treatments such as medication, minimally invasive procedures such as injections and surgical procedures.
Many of these tips keep him going daily, said Hajnik, who still suffers from severe arthritis, but is too young to get a knee replacement that would last him for the rest of his life.
Part of his motivation in wanting people to understand how to manage and alleviate their knee pain short of replacing the joint is reducing the overall number of people who will need replacements, which is expected to rise astronomically the next two decades.
In 2010, doctors performed 600,000 knee replacements Hajnik said. By 2030, that number is expected to rise to 3 million, a fivefold increase.
“But there is not going to be a fivefold increase in orthopedic surgeons,” Hajnik said. “If there is a way to cut that down … that’s an easier thing for an orthopedic surgeon to stomach.”
Hajnik said he takes pride being able to deliver this message at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas, in a region where many of the people he helps are his neighbors.
“It means a lot, I run into these people at football games, and most of them already know each other,” Hajnik said. “It is one more opportunity to get out there in this community that is my home and I don’t plan on leaving because I truly love it.”
Dr. Hajnik’s presentation is from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Nov. 2 at the conference center at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, located at 354 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas 92024. To register, call 1-800-SCRIPPS (1-800-727-4777).