Obesity is commonly categorized as a national crisis and an epidemic for good reason. The health risks posed by obesity affect every almost every single part of the body, and the condition has officially surpassed smoking as the number one health threat in the United States. Although emergency heart surgeries and gastric bypass make more headlines, obesity also causes many musculoskeletal problems that require the skills of an orthopedic surgeon.
Obese patients often must see an orthopedic surgeon because of knee, ankle, back or hip pain. Osteoarthritis is often the cause of this pain. Osteoarthritis a condition that historically has affected mainly elderly patients but in recent years has become common in younger adults because of obesity. Joint pain and limited joint mobility are the main symptoms of this condition, which is the wearing away of cartilage and other joint tissue. This tissue provides a buffer between bones that keeps them from grinding against one another during movement.
Osteoarthritis has long been considered a condition of the elderly because this level of wear and tear is normally achieved after many decades. However, the massive amounts of extra weight an obese person places on his or her own skeletal system far exceeds what our bodies are equipped to carry. This accelerates the degeneration of joint tissue, which results in an increase in younger people who need corrective orthopedic surgery and joint replacements.
Aside from sheer weight, lack of exercise also worsens these joint problems. Though it may be painful at first, exercise alleviates osteoarthritis symptoms by lubricating the connective tissue and strengthening the surrounding muscles to take some of the stress off of the joints. The "use it or lose it" motto popular with many older folks who have been diagnosed with arthritis should now be adopted by all at-risk overweight people. Even the small, simple exercises that can be done sitting down can be beneficial in preventing further joint deterioration.
Furthermore, operating on obese patients poses a higher risk for complications. Surgery heightens the risk of blood clots, and obese patients are several times more likely to develop blood clots both during and after surgery because of poor circulation.
Blood clots pose several deadly health risks including pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis and stroke. Pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot causes blockage in the lungs and can result in death. Similarly, a stroke occurs when a blood clot causes blockage in the brain and can result in coma, severe brain damage and death.
Many people seek out an orthopedic surgeon to have these procedures done electively, which is why these potentially deadly health risks should be carefully considered. However, if surgery does go well, it could be a turning point in someone's life. After having a painful joint problem fixed by an orthopedic surgeon, an obese patient may find it easier to get out and exercise. Being able to move without debilitating pain could just be the extra help someone needs to begin a healthier lifestyle.