Obesity-related knee replacements on the rise

Aging bones or running injuries, contrary to popular belief, aren't the cause of most knee replacement surgeries.

According to a new study that included data from 125 orthopedic surgeons from 22 states, the main reason for these types of operations is rising obesity rates.

'Functional disability' common in young people

Lead study author David Ayers, M.D., from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said that what was once thought of as a procedure for older patients with long-standing sports injuries is changing.

"Our study shows that younger patients are more obese and experience the same amount of pain and functional disability as older patients and in some cases even more," Ayers said.

Total joint replacement surgery is one of the most expensive procedures in the country – a significant factor, given that rising obesity rates are already driving up the cost of health care. About 600,000 knee replacement surgeries are performed every year, costing about $9.9 billion total. By 2030, an expected 3.48 million of these surgeries will be performed annually.

"These are not premature or unnecessary procedures," Ayers said.

Post-operative disadvantages

Being obese also spells out trouble for patients recovering from knee replacement surgery, Ayers stressed. Regardless of age, obesity reduces the amount of functional gain a person can have after a joint replacement procedure. Obese patients are also more likely to suffer from infection or post-surgical complications.

Combined with the fact that there are no standards for post-operative education on improving physical activity and diet, all of these factors drive up health care costs.

"Unless we see a significant reduction in obesity, we will continue to see the necessity for more and more of these procedures," Ayers said. "This is an example of the type of information this database will yield that could directly influence clinical best practices, health care policy and the overall health and quality of life for people with arthritis."

Source: University of Massachusetts Medical School

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