Delaying Knee Surgery has a Detrimental Impact on Health, a New Study Finds

A new study has revealed that most people who require knee surgery are waiting too long to get it done, and this is having a detrimental impact on their health and wellbeing. Experts advise that those eligible for knee replacement surgery should act sooner rather than later to avoid further deterioration of the knee and evade the increased likeliness of suffering from associated health problems.

Knee Surgery

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People putting off knee surgery suffer severe symptoms

Researchers at Northwestern University recruited over 8,000 people with knee osteoarthritis, or at risk of suffering from it, to participate in a study taking place over eight years. Throughout the study, a total of 2,313 people became eligible for knee surgery, and the researchers inspected 3,417 knees, with just 1,114 being replaced over the entire eight years. However, researchers determined that 2,833 people were potentially appropriate for the surgery and did not have it. Of the group who did not undergo surgery over 1,200 of them suffered from severe symptoms. The researchers suggest that undergoing knee surgery would have alleviated these symptoms and that people’s quality of life was negatively impacted by not undergoing surgery early on.

Delaying surgery reduces the chances of regaining full mobility

The findings of the study, which were published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery this week, highlight the dangers of putting off knee surgery, demonstrating that it can lead to further deterioration of the knee.

Researchers recorded how some participants of the study who did not undergo the surgery were living a life of decreased mobility, with some of them unable to straighten out their legs, making it difficult for them to walk. They also found additional health problems arising as a result of this limited mobility, such as cardiovascular health problems produced by a lack of exercise.

What’s more, the study found that those who have knee surgery further down the line, rather than as soon as they are eligible, do not see as much improvement to their knee function following the surgery, in comparison to those who opt to be operated on earlier on. Waiting too long often means that even with surgery, the person is unlikely to recover their full level of mobility.

However, researchers warn that simply getting surgery as soon as possible is not necessarily the answer. Over a quarter of knee surgeries are deemed to have been undertaken prematurely, with people classed as being "likely inappropriate” for surgery opting to go through with the procedure anyway. Data shows that these patients are at risk of suffering from complications of the surgery and benefit less than they would have done if the surgery was carried out later. In some cases, premature surgeries result in patients requiring a second surgery further down the line, which may have worse outcomes.

Better guidelines called for as knee surgeries are on the rise

With knee replacement surgeries on the rise, medical professionals and patients must have a clear understanding of the most appropriate plan of action based on the individual to avoid the negative impact of leaving surgery too late, but also the risks of carrying out replacements prematurely. Research tells us that in the US knee replacement surgeries are becoming more prevalent, with the growth of the aging population alongside the increasing obesity epidemic being attributed as the primary underlying factors.

Currently, around 1 million knee replacement surgeries are carried out annually in the US. Recent studies have estimated that this figure will rapidly increase over the next decade, with it predicted to increase by 189% by 2030. More research is needed to help establish stricter, more accurate, and more personalized guidelines to advise patients on the best time for them to receive surgery to obtain the most health benefits and avoid risks.

Journal reference:

Ghomrawi et, al,. 2020,Examining Timeliness of Total Knee Replacement Among Patients with Knee Osteoarthritis in the U.S., The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, DOI:10.2106/JBJS.19.00432

Sarah Moore

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Sarah Moore

After studying Psychology and then Neuroscience, Sarah quickly found her enjoyment for researching and writing research papers; turning to a passion to connect ideas with people through writing.


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