If a surgeon has told you they want to see weight loss before surgery before scheduling your procedure, you may be wondering. It can be disappointing to learn that you can’t get the surgery you want until you lose weight, especially if you’ve had a hard time dropping pounds in the past and you’re living with a lot of pain that surgery might help resolve.
But there are some good reasons why doctors want to see their patients lose weight before undergoing back surgery, hip replacement, or knee replacement.
Read on to learn why weight loss before surgery can be beneficial and may lower your risk of complications during and after your procedure.
Why do doctors tell heavy patients to lose weight before surgery?
Even if you consider yourself pretty healthy, your surgeon may still recommend weight loss before surgery, especially if your weight falls into the obese category. This is because they want to do everything they can to help you minimize your risk of complications from surgery.
This is especially true if you have certain health conditions often associated with obesity, including:
- Cardiovascular Disease
- High Blood Pressure
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea
- Metabolic Syndrome
One significant part of the surgery that can be impacted by extra weight is anesthesia. Locating the veins to administer the anesthesia is more difficult on an obese patient, and it’s harder to properly position the needle when delivering spinal and epidural nerve blocks.
Recovery can also be more difficult for obese patients. They have a higher risk of experiencing the following complications after surgery, such as:
- Difficulty Breathing
- Blood Clots
- Pulmonary Embolism
- Poor Wound Healing
- Joint Dislocation
How much weight should I lose to reduce my risk?
The total amount of weight loss before surgery your doctor will expect can vary depending on your specific health situation and how much weight you have to lose.
Having a body mass index (BMI) greater than 40 puts you at higher risk of severe complications during and after surgery than a patient who is at a healthy weight.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), BMI is calculated using this formula:
Weight (lbs) / [height (in)]² x 703
If it’s been a while since you’ve taken a math class, the CDC with a simple tool you can use to calculate your BMI.
Even a weight loss before surgery of just 5 to 10% of your total body weight can significantly improve your health outcomes and decrease your risk of complications. (So, for example, if you currently weigh 200 lbs, that would be a weight loss before surgery of 10–20 lbs.)
Your doctor or a registered dietitian can recommend a customized diet plan and help you set healthy weight loss goals, but losing one to two pounds per week is generally safe for most people.
Tips for weight loss before surgery
The most critical aspects of a successful weight loss plan are that it fits your schedule and involves what you enjoy. Losing weight naturally may require you to kick some bad habits and replace them with new healthy habits that you can sustain for the rest of your life.
Before you get started on any weight loss plan:
- Get a health check. If you’re not used to being physically active or are over age 45, consult a doctor before starting an exercise routine.
- Set realistic goals. Begin with achievable goals (e.g., walking 20 minutes a day), then add more activity over time.
- Create a habit. An exercise routine is only a “routine” if you stick to it long term; try to schedule time each week that you will exercise to hold yourself accountable.
Best exercises for beginners
Exercise is an integral part of overall health and wellness and can aid in weight loss before surgery. Developing a new exercise routine that you will enjoy and stick with is vital.
Some common types of exercises for beginners include:
- Aerobic: Periods of continuous movement (e.g., jogging, cycling)
- Strength: Focuses on muscle power and building strength such as (e.g., weightlifting)
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT): Short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by low intensity or rest (e.g., boot camps)
- Balance or stability: Strengthens muscles while improving body coordination (e.g., pilates)
- Flexibility: Maintains range of motion, prevents injuries and aids in muscle recoveries (e.g., yoga)
Just remember to consult your doctor before starting any new program to find suitable activities that are safe for you before and after surgery.
Eating a healthy diet is an essential part of weight loss before surgery. It can also be one of the most challenging lifestyle changes to make, as it impacts your choices multiple times a day, every day.
Here are some tips to help you start eating healthy:
- Be realistic. Changing your eating habits is difficult, so take baby steps. Doing too much all at once will make it harder to stick with your new healthier way of eating.
- Know that you can still enjoy food. Eating healthy doesn’t mean cutting everything you enjoy out of your diet. It’s about learning balance.
- Follow a healthy eating plan. Having a plan can make eating healthy easier. This doesn’t mean jumping on the latest diet bandwagon; it just means finding a healthy meal plan that works for you and keeps you on track.
- Reward yourself. Plan to reward yourself as you meet small goals (preferably with something other than food). Maybe you get a manicure or buy a new pair of shoes. It could just be that you take some time to be proud of yourself and reflect on the work that you’ve done to achieve your goal.
Schedule an appointment
You can get more tips on healthy living and weight loss before surgery in the Ultimate Guide to a Healthy Lifestyle.
OrthoIndy is home to top doctors with expertise in treating necks; backs; shoulders; knees; hips; feet and ankles; and hands, wrists and elbows.
If you have questions about surgery or want a second opinion from one of our surgeons, request an appointment online or call us at 317.802.2000.
Get a second opinion at OrthoIndy
OrthoIndy has been named one of the best hospitals for spine surgery and is in the top 5% in the nation. We are proud to be a Five-Star Recipient for the 2021 Spine Surgery Excellence Award™.
If you’re struggling with back pain or are looking for a second opinion about getting a lumbar laminectomy, schedule online or call us to set up an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists.
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