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New Arthritis Implant Uses Contact Lens Material as a Cushion

A new treatment for a common kind of arthritis replaces damaged cartilage to cushion painful joints.

The synthetic cartilage is made with the same material as a contact lens. Nichelle Perry opted to try it after her arthritis became so bad that she could barely put shoes on, let alone walk. Six months after her surgery, she's a back in the gym.

New Arthritis Treatment Could be a 'Game-Changer' 1:36

"This is a revolutionary type of product that potentially is a lifelong solution to a lot of patients to maintain motion and decrease the pain that they're suffering from," Dr. Selene Parekh, who offers the treatment at his orthopedic clinic in Durham, N.C., told NBC News.

Arthritis affects 54 million Americans — mostly women — and that number is growing every year.

Many cases are simply treated with painkillers. Some patients get surgery. Perry was offered the option of having the bones in her painful big toe fused. She opted for the implant.

So far, doctors in the United States only use it for big toes, but European doctors are using it in knees and thumbs, also.

Data about use of the implant so far shows pain reduction in 91 percent of patients, and more than 100 percent improvement in their ability to play sports and participate in other mobile activities.