Physical Therapy Boosts Orthopedic and Bariatric Surgery Outcomes for Obese Patients

Most people recognize that an exercise program is critical to weight management and weight loss. But for adult obese patients who are prospects for bariatric or orthopedic surgery, this concept is a double-edged sword.

Exercise to achieve weight loss is necessary to prepare for both types of surgery and improve outcomes.

For bariatric patients, it means they are more likely to keep the weight off. For orthopedic patients, it means the joint surgery is more likely to be successful, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

But how can they lose weight if both types of patients struggle to exercise?

Part of your goal as a physical therapist is to encourage appropriate exercise levels—for everyone. But it can be frustrating for obese patients to feel like they can make any gains in this area.

That doesn’t have to be the case, however. Advances in partial-weight-bearing technology, such as the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill™, give obese patients a taste of success while minimizing risk of injury.

Here are 3 ways obese orthopedic and bariatric surgery candidates can use physical therapy to improve patient outcomes before and after surgery.

#1 Reduce Pain During Exercise
The body is built for movement. And exercise on a treadmill is a great way to get obese patients moving. In fact, the treadmill is one of the best pieces of equipment for burning calories and weight loss.

However, a major stumbling block is the pain of stress on the joints due to excess weight, especially if that pain is so bad that your patients are considering joint surgery.

They may want to avoid exercise at all costs because they fear more pain and don’t want to risk further injury, says a January 2013 study in Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews.

Low-impact exercises can successfully address these concerns in your patients.

Partial-weight-bearing equipment like the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill allows you to adjust your patient’s weight so that up to 80% of it is supported by the treadmill. This in turn reduces joint stress and pain, which means your patients can more comfortably perform regular exercise.

#2 Lower Risk Of Complications
Surgery always comes with risks, regardless of weight. However, obese patients preparing for orthopedic or bariatric surgeries run a greater risk of complications.

For bariatric surgery patients, exercise that results in weight loss means better mobility and less joint stress, reports the Obesity Action Council. It also means better cardiovascular health, which results in fewer complications that may arise during and after the procedure.

Joint surgery candidates with a body mass index, or BMI, of more than 40 are more likely to have serious complications during and after surgery than their counterparts of normal weight, reports the AAOS.

In knee arthroplasty patients, for example, obesity increased infections and also required second joint surgeries, says an October 2012 study in The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery.

Other complications for obese patients, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, include:

  • Locating veins for anesthesia and medications
  • Ensuring sufficient oxygen and airflow
  • Poor wound healing
  • Blood clots

Weight loss before the procedure can reduce the likelihood of these types of complications occurring. Plus, it increases the chances of the surgery’s success. With less weight, your patients will have better mobility and range of motion, and implants are less likely to fail.

Steady-state training—where your patient maintains a steady pace or intensity—can be highly effective for weight loss, particularly on a treadmill.

With the AlterG, steady progression is easier to achieve for patients because joint pain is reduced during exercise. You’re also able to adjust:

  • Body weight
  • Exercise intensity (speed and/or grade)
  • Duration by 1 to 5%

#3 Improve Balance And Posture

Because of the amount of mass an obese patient’s skeleton must support, the plantar sole loses sensitivity and affects balance control, according to a September 2013 study in research journal Current Obesity Reports.

Daily activities, such as standing, reaching for an object while standing, and walking become difficult feats. They also make your patients more susceptible to falls. For post-surgery patients, a simple fall could put them back in the hospital and lead to serious complications.

Since AlterG supports your patients’ lower body weight as they shift their weight from one leg to the other, they can strengthen control of posture and balance mechanisms in their torsos. With regular practice, they can improve their balance and posture to reduce their risk of falls.

Using partial-weight-bearing equipment like the AlterG can reduce health risks in your obese patients, better preparing them for orthopedic and bariatric surgery—and life after.

Contact a rep to learn more ways that AlterG can improve the lives of your obese patients.