Bariatric Surgery Improves Mobility, Reduces Pain Over Long Term

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Bariatric Surgery Improves Mobility, Reduces Pain Over Long Term

Undergoing bariatric (weight-loss) surgery is linked to long-term mobility improvement and reduced pain, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

The health benefits of bariatric surgery have long been known to extend far beyond just weight loss, especially for people with obesity who also have type 2 diabetes. The surgery has been shown to promote remission of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, meaning that people no longer need to take glucose-lowering medications to have normal blood glucose levels. The procedure is also linked to a lower risk of death — both overall and from cardiovascular disease — as well as a lower risk for severe COVID-19, improved outcomes related to knee replacement, and reduced liver fat in people with type 2 diabetes. People who undergo bariatric surgery tend to follow healthier lifestyle behaviors afterwards, which may help support some of the health benefits associated with it.

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For the latest study, researchers looked at health outcomes following bariatric surgery in 1,491 adults living in the United States who underwent either gastric bypass or sleeve gastrectomy — two common forms of the procedure. They were particularly interested in whether certain health benefits persisted beyond three years after the surgery, which is when past studies have shown that many initial improvements begin to decline. Participants underwent a detailed health evaluation both right before and five to seven years after undergoing bariatric surgery at one of 10 different U.S. hospitals. All participants started out with severe obesity, meaning a body-mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account) of 35 or greater — and the median BMI was 47, while the median age of participants was 47 years old.

Bariatric surgery linked to long-lasting pain reduction, mobility improvements in many participants

The researchers found that between three and seven years after undergoing bariatric surgery, some participants experienced loss of what are known as “clinically important improvements,” or CIIs, in certain areas. Compared with before the procedure, the proportion of participants with CIIs in pain dropped from 50% (three years after the surgery) to 43% (seven years after it). For physical function, the number dropped from 75% to 64%, and for the amount of time needed to walk 400 meters (1,312 feet), it dropped from 61% to 50%.

For participants who had a mobility deficit before undergoing bariatric surgery, the proportion that had this problem resolved dropped from 50% to 41%. For those who started out with severe hip pain, the proportion with CIIs dropped from 77% to 65%, while for those who started out with a severe deficit in knee function, the proportion with CIIs dropped from 77% to 72%.

While these results show a disappointing reversal in certain improvements between three and seven years following bariatric surgery, they also show that the vast majority of participants maintained their initial improvements. And improvements in mobility and pain persisted even as participants got older, the researchers pointed out — even though mobility generally tends to worsen with age. For people with severe obesity, these results demonstrate, bariatric surgery may lead to lasting improvements in quality of life.

Want to learn more about bariatric surgery and type 2 diabetes? Read “Is Bariatric Surgery for You?” and “Bariatric Surgery and Diabetes: Questions and Answers.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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