As the next year with its fresh batch of New Year’s Resolutions looms large, so does America’s obesity epidemic with more than one of every 3 American adults tipping the scales into the “obese” category. If heightened risks for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes aren’t enough to motivate you to shed those extra pounds, perhaps that pain in the butt (or back or knees or shoulders) will. Excess weight can slow your body’s ability to heal from surgery as well as hamper circulation. As a result, obesity and orthopedic surgery can be a recipe for disaster.
For starters, obesity can force body parts into unnatural positions, leading to painful tension on joints and connective tissue. For instance, extra fatty tissue in the arm can lead to a resting position that’s further out to the side than normal, resulting in stress to the joint capsule, supporting ligaments of the shoulder, and rotator cuff tendons.
Here is one additional reason to lose weight that you may not have considered: Obesity, particularly as it pertains to the arms and legs, will place joints in a position that is not natural. Over time, rotator cuff tendonitis could result. Similar problems can surface in other joints — such as ankles, knees, and hips — as a result of extra fatty tissue between the thighs that forces weight to be born unevenly across knee joint surfaces. These issues are not just potential problems for those morbidly obese people, either; even moderately overweight individuals can experience joint dysfunction as a result of extra soft tissue.
When a joint problem warrants surgery, obese patients are often encouraged to shed some of their extra weight before the surgery takes place. Consider what occurs during recovery from knee-replacement surgery: Each added pound adds to the pain involved in placing weight on the surgery-traumatized leg. To avoid that discomfort, patients (understandably) tend to shift weight to their “good knee,” causing imbalanced posture and over-stressing of that joint. In addition, the full recovery of the replaced joint is stalled.
For those considered “morbidly obese” (having BMIs over 35), other issues can contribute to delayed recovery, as well. The sedentary lifestyle common among such individuals can cause muscular weakness and, by extension, joint pain. (When muscles are strong, force is dispersed throughout joints, promoting rapid recovery and complete healing.)
Because fatty tissue compromises circulation, the bodies of obese individuals lack the ability to promote proper healing. The most problematic circulation issues occur in the extremities, including the legs. The most common orthopedic surgery is knee-replacement surgery, which centers on one of those extremities. Because circulation problems slow healing, those who are obese will face additional recovery time.
A good orthopedic surgeon will discuss any potential obesity-related complications with the patient before surgery is performed; in fact, some will even refuse to perform the surgery before weight loss takes place. Sometimes, joint pain will be reduced enough to prompt cancelling surgery altogether!
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their website at www.PhysioDC.com or call them at 202-223-8500.
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