Guidelines: Don’t delay total joint arthroplasty for additional nonoperative therapies


Patients with moderate to severe osteoarthritis (OA) or osteonecrosis (ON) eligible for total joint arthroplasty (TJA) who have failed one or more nonoperative therapies should proceed directly to surgery, according to new guidelines from the American College of Rheumatology and the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons.

“One of the reasons for creating this guideline was that many patients have been subjected to delays for surgery after completing nonoperative therapy, despite persistent moderate to severe pain, loss of function, and moderate to severe radiographic OA or ON,” said coauthors Susan M. Goodman, MD, a rheumatologist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, and Charles Hannon, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Washington University in St. Louis, in an email interview with this news organization. “This guideline supports surgery being performed in an expeditious fashion after the decision has been made to proceed with surgery by both the physician and patient through a shared decision-making process,” they said.

The guidelines also state that obesity by itself should not be a reason to delay TJA. “We could not find a rationale for a strict cut off for weight/body mass index (BMI). Our literature review revealed that though many adverse events were, in fact, increased in patients with morbid obesity, there is also an increase in adverse events for those who had bariatric surgery prior to their arthroplasty,” they added, noting that patients need to be made aware of the increased risk for adverse events in patients with obesity. Though the guidelines do not pose any BMI cutoffs, they state that weight loss should be “strongly encouraged.” These new recommendations are conditional, and all had a “low” to “very low” certainty of evidence; however, there was high consensus on the recommendations from the expert panel.

The guidelines also recommended:

  • Delaying TJA to achieve smoking and nicotine cessation or reduction.
  • Delaying TJA to improve glycemic control in patients with diabetes, although the group did not recommend any specific measure or threshold.
  • Not delaying TJA in patients with a severe deformity, bone loss, or a neuropathic joint.

The new guidelines formalize what many surgeons have already been doing for the past few years, said Arjun Saxena, MD, MBA, an orthopedic surgeon in Philadelphia who was not involved with the guidelines. “A lot of total joint programs have really focused on patient optimization, including smoking cessation, glycemic control, and weight loss prior to surgery,” he said.

Most importantly, the guidelines put an emphasis on how the decision to proceed with TJA should be a shared decision between a physician and patient, he added. Some insurance companies with prior authorization policies may require a patient to try additional nonoperative therapies before approving surgery, creating barriers to care, he said. “Hopefully [these new recommendations] will help third parties understand that joint replacement is a big decision – most doctors aren’t going to recommend that unless it’s necessary or something that is going to help patients,” he said. “I understand that there is a certain need for preauthorization, but just having strict guidelines isn’t appropriate. You really need to look at the whole picture,” he added.

The full manuscript has been submitted for review and is expected to be jointly published in American College of Rheumatology and the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons journals later this year.

Dr. Saxena consults for the orthopedic implant company Corin.

A version of this article originally appeared on

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