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Avoiding Weight Gain After Knee Surgery

Photo by: Lab2112 (Flickr)

Recovering from knee surgery can be a long and arduous process, but replacing the joint is far better than suffering from the debilitating pain behind the need for surgery in the first place. Reasons for knee surgery may vary, but patients recovering from the procedure all have one thing in common: Knee surgery patients have a propensity to gain weight after their joint has been replaced. This is bad news. Putting on the pounds not only opens the patient up to variety of weight-related health issues, it also puts additional stress on the new joint.

In researching this phenomenon, Virginia Commonwealth University in partnership with the Mayo Clinic Health System studied 1,000 patients who underwent knee replacement surgery. Researchers kept tabs on the patients for five years after their joint replacement. Of the 1,000 patients studied, 30 percent of them gained 5 percent or more of their total body weight. I don't know about you, but the results of this study bother me. This amount of weight gain is not only harmful, but can - and should - be avoided!

How big of a problem is this? If you take into account that 676,000 people received a knee replacement in 2009, and then you figure that 30 percent of the patients are currently experiencing at least a 5-percent increase in their total body weight over a five-year time span, 202,800 people have been gaining weight over the last four years. As nurses, we need to put a stop to this, and we have the tools to do it!

Part of understanding how to prevent your patients from gaining weight after knee surgery is understanding why your patient is gaining weight in the first place. There are several schools of thought behind this mysterious weight gain, but I tend to stick with just one, and that is old habits die hard. If you think about why your patient needed knee surgery to begin with, you'll realize why he or she is gaining weight now.

Knee replacement surgery is a last-resort solution to ending the pain or suffering of a severely damaged knee joint, and I realize that you already know that but bear with me for just a moment, please. Your patient has been favoring his or her knee for years, learning how to get by with as little stress as possible on the joint. This usually means staying off the knee as much as possible by living a sedate lifestyle.

Once your patient's knee has been replaced, he or she will have physical therapy treatments to get used to their new knee. This will train the body to accept a functional knee, but not necessarily the brain. One hurdle that many nurses might not be taking into consideration is the mental rehabilitation a patient might require to understand fully that he or she has a brand new knee and they can - and should - use it to its fullest advantage!

  • Posterior Knee Pain and Its Causes - Ithaca College presents this The Physician and Sports Medicine article on some causes of debilitating knee pain.
  • Hip and Knee Pain - University of Rochester's Highland Hospital gives an explanation behind hip and knee pain and their causes.
  • Knee Replacement Surgery - Cedars Sinai Medical Center details the causes for knee replacement surgery, and recovery options after the procedure.

You might find that some of your patients are wary of putting too much stress on their new knee, or they are simply used to their sedate lifestyle and do not possess a desire to change it. This is where you, as the healthcare practitioner, need to step in and encourage your patient to change his or her way of thinking and, thereby, his or her behavior.

Learn all you can about your patient's knee replacement and the tools and resources we have at our disposal when it comes to patient recovery after this specific procedure. If you are armed with an arsenal of exercises, healthy lifestyle choices, and convincing reasons behind the necessity of them, you've got more to help you help your patients when they become resistant.

Aside from textbook knowledge of the procedure and recovery process, be encouraging with your patients, teaching them to enjoy their new knee to the fullest. Perhaps they used to hike, or have a dream of climbing Mount Everest. With their new knee, they can. Maybe they have grandkids they want to play with, now they can. Take the time find out what makes your patients tick and then use it to encourage them to use their new knee.

Knee replacement surgery is a wonder of modern medicine, but it doesn't do the patients or the healthcare industry any good if the patients put on weight during their recovery process. We want to help people live a better life by replacing bad knees, not bring about additional health concerns alongside the knee replacement. When working with patients who are recovering from knee replacement surgery, make certain they enter into their pain-free life healthfully by encouraging them to exercise on their new knee and maintain a healthy weight.

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