Weight loss drugs could increase orthopedic, decrease spine volume


The impacts of GLP-1 weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy on the orthopedic and spine industry are still largely unknown, with surgeons agreeing that it could take several years to fully see and understand their impact. 

"I am seeing increased usage of GLP drugs. Initially, the effect of these drugs will have little impact on spine and orthopedics; however, in a few years time, it will have a bearish effect as thinner people will have fewer spine and orthopedic problems. After a few more years business will pick up again since people will be living longer. I believe usage of this class of drugs will increase," John Prunskis, MD, CEO and medical director of the Illinois Pain & Spine Institute in Elgin, told Becker's in December. 

While it could take a while for surgeons to see the full effects of GLP-1s in musculoskeletal care, once they do, some specialists are bracing for higher patient volumes in the world of orthopedic and total joint replacement care. 

"Most docs think that it potentially brings more patients into the procedure pipeline," Glenn Boehnlein, CFO of Stryker, said during the Wells Fargo 2023 Healthcare Conference. "Our belief in working with [key opinion leaders] is that this is net neutral to a slight positive in terms of the impact it could have. But I think we'll see more data that will come out."

Historically, surgeons have been cautious about operating on patients with a BMI of 30, 40 or higher. As patients have access to GLP-1s, more patients could be eligible for joint replacements.

"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," Kevin Stone, MD, orthopedic surgeon at the San Francisco-based Stone Clinic, told Becker's

While orthopedic surgeons may see higher patient volumes from GLP-1s, spine surgeons are preparing to potentially see decreased patient volumes. 

"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," Brian Gantwerker, MD, neurosurgeon at the Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles, told Becker's. 

"I believe that morbid obesity is an unrecognized cause of disability in our society, and I'm optimistic that weight loss medications will positively affect people and society and ultimately reduce the need for spine surgery," Harel Deutsch, MD, orthopedic surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush in Chicago, told Becker's.

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