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Morbidly Obese Patients Should Lose ≥20 Pounds Prior to TKA

The obesity epidemic continues throughout much of the developed world. Among the morbidly obese (BMI ≥40 kg/m2), we have a group of patients in whom arthritis is very likely to develop due to excessive loading of articular cartilage, chronic inflammation, and alignment problems. At the same time, many arthroplasty surgeons are wary of treating morbidly obese patients with surgery because of the increased perioperative risks. Although many of these patients still benefit greatly from joint replacement, in today’s “value-based care” environment, some institutions have implemented BMI cutoff thresholds for performing knee or hip arthroplasty. Others have set weight-loss requirements before they will schedule lower-extremity arthroplasty for morbidly obese patients. One still-unanswered question along these lines is: how much weight does a morbidly obese patient need to lose preoperatively in order to improve the outcome after a knee replacement?

Keeney et al. address that question in the August 21, 2019 issue of The Journal. In a retrospective cohort study, the authors evaluated outcomes among 203 morbidly obese patients who underwent a total knee arthroplasty (TKA). They found that a loss of 20 pounds preoperatively was associated with a shorter length of stay and a lower chance of being discharged to a rehab or skilled nursing facility rather than home. However, a 20-pound weight loss had no impact on surgical time or functional outcomes, as measured with the PROMIS-10 physical component score. Of note, only 14% of the evaluated patients lost at least 20 pounds preoperatively (highlighting the difficulty of losing weight in general and among this patient population in particular). There were no benefits of any kind in patients who lost only 5 or 10 pounds preoperatively.

While this study’s sample size is small, the findings provide evidence surgeons can use to encourage (or insist upon) larger amounts of weight loss before arthroplasty procedures in morbidly obese patients. In this study, the patients who lost at least 20 pounds remained morbidly or severely obese, and all the patients eventually regained most or all of the weight they lost. Still, the conclusion that at least 20 pounds of weight loss is beneficial for morbidly obese patients prior to a TKA remains sound. Because of the magnitude of this public health issue, we need more high-quality outcomes research (preferably using more knee-specific functional measures) on preoperative management of morbidly obese patients who are considering lower-extremity arthroplasty.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief