The Long-Term Benefits of Weight-Loss Surgery for Pain and Mobility

In addition to helping severely obese people lose considerable amounts of weight, recent research indicates that many can anticipate long-lasting pain alleviation and increased mobility.

Despite the fact that many patients experience weight increase in the first few years following bariatric surgery, the advantages for pain and movement continue to hold true. Nearly two-thirds of the approximately 1,500 patients who participated in the study reported their physical functionality was still better seven years after the procedure, and 43% said their joint pain was still noticeably lower than it was before.

The lead author, Wendy King, stated that while “previous studies had provided evidence that bariatric surgical procedures are associated with clinically important improvements in pain, physical function, and work productivity,” most of them only followed participants for one to two years, during which time they were at the height of their weight loss. She teaches at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health as an associate professor.

Seven years after undergoing the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass or sleeve gastrectomy, the two most popular types of bariatric surgery, King and her colleagues discovered that patients were enjoying “clinically meaningful improvements in body and joint-specific pain and physical function.”

The new study expands on earlier work by the same researchers, which discovered that three years following bariatric surgery, 50% to 70% of patients reported decreased pain along with faster walking and generally greater physical function.

The latest study’s participants underwent weight-loss surgery between 2006 and 2009. White women, ages 38 to 55, made up almost 8 in 10.

According to the study, between three and seven years after surgery, the proportion of patients who were still reporting clinically significant improvements in pain, physical function, and walking speed decreased by 7 to 11 percentage points.

Even still, seven years after surgery, half of the participants were still walking 400 metres faster than before. 64% of patients reported significant improvements in physical function, and 43% in pain.

Another long-lasting advantage of the procedure was an improved capacity for handling the physical demands of job.

Before surgery, over two-thirds of participants claimed that joint discomfort and their general health had made it difficult for them to do their occupations; seven years later, that number fell to 43%.

The initial pre- to post-surgery improvements in pain, function, and work productivity were “durable,” according to King, who also noted that the declines between three and seven years were modest, especially in light of the participants’ advancing age.

Overall, the results support King’s assertion that “the benefits of contemporary bariatric surgery treatments — namely, Roux-en-Y gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy — significantly outweigh the dangers.”

The results were examined by Lona Sandon, a programme director at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas’ School of Health Professions.

She asserted that even when patients’ primary reason for surgery may be weight loss rather than pain treatment, the extra benefits identified in the study are well recognised to clinicians, who often flag them out to prospective patients.

Unlike obesity, which is a medical diagnosis, “insurance does not allow surgery based on pain scales or mobility capabilities,” Sandon noted.

“Insurance is also bad at covering preventative measures. Weight is therefore the main goal, she explained, leaving patients to view any additional benefits of surgery as “bonus.” “If and when they do, they will.

“It is good to see a long-term study showing these benefits endure over time,” Sandon added. “Physically feeling better with less pain and increased ability to move can do a lot to improve mood and quality of life.”

The results were revealed on September 14 in JAMA Network Open.

Information about

More information on the advantages of weight-loss surgery may be found at the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

SOURCES: Lona Sandon, PhD, RDN, LD, programme director and associate professor of clinical nutrition, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; JAMA Network Open, September 14, 2022; Wendy King, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health.

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