While the sudden popularity of GLP-1 receptor agonists such as Ozempic and Wegovy for weight loss is sparking discussion among physicians, it could have positive effects on the orthopedic and spine industry.
As patients continue to lose weight, barriers to surgery, such as high patient BMIs, could begin to fade away. Additionally, as patients weigh less, they may become more active and live longer.
A study presented at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons found orthopedic surgeons will need to either double their total joint arthroplasty caseload or the number of surgeons will need to increase by 10% every five years to meet the growing demand for surgery.
Here is why two surgeons told Becker's that GLP-1s could be good for musculoskeletal professionals, but patients should still proceed with caution amid reports of serious side effects.
Kevin Stone, MD. Orthopedic Surgeon at the Stone Clinic (San Francisco): Weight loss drugs will help people be much more active, which will drive more muscular usage. Patients will experience more skeletal injuries and more desire to have pain-free joints for older arthritic patients. Therefore, surgical volumes will go up, partial and total knee replacements will go up and sports related injuries will go up.
Brian Gantwerker, MD. Neurosurgeon at the Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: The GLP-1 agonist Ozempic has been a game changer for medical weight loss. There are reports of significant loss of stomach motility (gastroparesis), with the risk of patient aspirating being a real concern. Since this is relatively new, some anesthesiologists are recommending patients stop these medications a week or more before any surgeries. While studies are being conducted and more experience is gathered about GLP-1 agonists, I think it is prudent to stop them to minimize the risk of patient harm until we can be sure of the proper route to take regarding them. Also, weight loss may positively affect patients with chronic lumbar issues. While weight loss will not stop people from having back problems, and one of the tenets of back pain treatment is weight loss, it will certainly have an overall positive effect on these patients. I do worry about the long-term effects of these medications, as historically, many weight loss medications have adverse long-term health effects, many of which did not present until years later. I am always dubious when a lot of people start touting things, especially medical things, as "game changers." One has to have a jaundiced eye when potential carnival barkers insist something is going to change your life. I really do hope these medications are safe and help people.