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Need Help Healing from Joint Replacement? Take Off a Few Pounds

Leslie on medical research that confirms what you already know in your heart of hearts

Sometimes medical research is conducted mainly to confirm what you already know in your heart of hearts. This is one of those times:

A two-year study at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City confirms that losing weight can help you recover faster and more fully from knee and hip replacement surgery to relieve osteoarthritis (OA).

But you already suspected that, didn’t you? 

After all, it seems logical that lowering your body mass index (BMI) would reduce the demand on your joints, make it easier for them to heal, make it less painful to use them, and allow them to function better. And it follows that if all of those things happen you’ll be more active.

Now you have proof. The paper, titled “Weight Changes after Hip and Knee Arthroplasty: Incidence, Predictors, and Effects on Clinical Outcomes,” was presented at the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons conference in March 2014.  It followed the progress of 7,000 patients—3,036 knee replacements and 3,893 hip replacements—during their recovery over a two-year period.

Based on their Patient Reported Outcomes (PRO), people who lost weight after surgery said that they experienced less pain and better joint functionality than those whose BMI remained the same before and after surgery. People who gained weight after surgery experienced more pain and less functionality.

The paper says, “while these results are not entirely unexpected, they represent the first report to demonstrate evidence that weight loss following lower extremity arthroplasty, while not often accomplished, is associated with improved clinical outcomes, and weight gain is associated with inferior outcomes.”

What else did the paper tell us?

  • Knee replacement patients were more likely to lose weight after surgery than hip replacement patients
  • Overweight or obese women were more likely to lose weight after surgery than overweight or obese men.
  • In general, patients who were obese before surgery are more likely to lose weight than patients who were normal weight or overweight.
  • Most patients don’t show a change in BMI—plus or minus—after surgery.

Now, about that last statement...

Whether patients gain weight, lose weight or stick to the same weight after surgery has been the subject of quite a few other studies. The results are all over the board. A University of Delaware study published in 2009 reported that 66 percent of patients had gained an average of 14 pounds two years after having knee replacement surgery. Most studies say that patients’ weight tends to remain the same pre-surgery and post-surgery.

It doesn’t really matter...

If your physician tells you that taking off a few pounds (or more than a few pounds) will help you recover faster and more successfully from joint replacement surgery, you should listen to that advice.

  • Lay off the salty snacks
  • Drink water instead of soda or sports drinks.
  • Skip dessert.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Follow your physical therapy regimen faithfully.
  • Ask your doctor for nutrition and exercise recommendations.

You have a new knee. Or a new hip. Or both! Think of your new joints as symbols of a fresh start and an opportunity to adopt some new habits—especially new eating habits—to start you on a healthy path toward the future. 

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