Obesity and Knee Replacement Surgery

July 2021

Obesity can be a difficult topic to discuss openly due to social norms and patients’ willingness to discuss it. The American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons strongly believes there should be an open conversation between provider and patient to discuss obesity, its affect on your musculoskeletal health, and the ways in which providers can help. Obesity is increasingly common in the United States and is showing its adverse effects on our joints, most commonly in our knees and hips. There is a genetic wear and tear component to the development of osteroarthritis, but obesity can also largely contribute. There is a biomechanical force of weight but also a biologic component of obesity that causes systemic inflammatory changes in our bodies, which leads to the earlier development of osteoarthritis. For every one pound of body weight we have, that places six more pounds of pressure on each knee joint.

I frequently council our patients that even a small amount of weight loss can have a significant affect on the current and future state of their knees and the pain they are experiencing. Given that, it’s not surprising that the likelihood of needing a total knee replacement increases by 20% if you are obese. Obesity in adults can lead to longer hospital stays following joint replacement, higher risk of infection, or higher risk of prosthetic failure. That’s why it’s so important to have the conversation with your doctor. At Suburban Orthopedics we are very thoughtful of this, and even if it is a tough conversation, we want to speak openly and caringly about weight loss if it can benefit you.

I personally have struggled with weight gain throughout my life. Diet and exercise always seemed too hard to sustain for any length of time. When life happens, work happens, and family happens, it becomes increasingly difficult to try to take care of yourself. When life calmed down a little bit for me, I finally took the time to focus on my own health and was able to lose almost 60 pounds and have kept it off to this date. Personally, it has been a mix of fasting, dieting, and exercising that has enabled me to keep the weight off. The important thing to realize is that there is no one perfect weight loss program for any group of people. Weight loss is a personal journey and you have to find what works for you. There are many options including exercise, diet, medications, dietitian consultations, and bariatric surgery. At Suburban Orthopaedics, we’re here to support you with multiple resources, including our doctors and others we can refer you to.

If you have already developed osteoarthritis and continue to suffer with pain, hope is not lost! It is never too late to begin the process of taking control of your body so that you can feel better, be more active, and have less pain. As mentioned before, a very small amount of weight loss can help your current situation and the pain you are in. Remember, for every pound of weight you lose, it can take six pounds of stress off each of your knees with every step. This can drastically reduce the pain and symptoms you experience with knee osteoarthritis. Many people get stuck in a cycle of pain and inability to exercise because pain doesn’t allow you to exercise, and if you can’t exercise to lose weight you continue to have pain. In these situations, low impact exercises such as yoga and water aerobics can help profoundly. For more vigorous exercise, low impact options may include biking, swimming, and rowing machine exercises.

At the end of the day, if you continue with joint pain, there are likely medicines, therapy, injections, and surgical options we can offer you to help resolve your problem. At a minimum, we can help reduce the pain and dysfunction you are experiencing. We are committed to helping you improve your quality of life. Do not hesitate to reach out to us or ask us openly and honestly about your situation so we can help you on your way to better health.