Gastric Bypass Surgery Relieves Joint Pain

The dramatic weight loss triggered by gastric bypass surgery (search) not only reduces the risk of chronic disease among the obese, but it may also offer relief from everyday aches and pains, according to a new study.

Researchers found joint and tendon pain was significantly reduced following gastric bypass and subsequent weight loss among a group of obese adults.

The study showed the number of painful joints and other painful areas reported by the group was cut in half six to 12 months after the weight loss surgery, and complaints of widespread pain and muscle tenderness typical of fibromyalgia (search) were reduced by 92 percent.

"The study clearly showed the benefit of weight loss in terms of pain, function, and quality of life," says researcher Michele Hooper, MD, co-director of the arthritis translational research program at University Hospitals of Cleveland, in a news release.

Joint Pain Relief From Weight Loss Surgery

In the study, researchers followed a group of 54 obese adults (52 women and two men) who underwent gastric bypass surgery for weight loss. Gastric bypass surgery involves creating a small pouch in the upper stomach and attaching it to the small intestine, which drastically reduces the stomach's capacity and results in weight loss.

Before the gastric bypass surgery, the women weighed an average of nearly 300 pounds and they lost an average of 90 pounds within six to 12 months following the procedure.

Researchers found that the participants frequently reported joint and tendon pain before the weight loss surgery, both in weight-bearing and nonweight-bearing areas, such as a the neck, shoulder, lower spine, hip, and knee.

But the number of those joint pain complaints was dramatically reduced following the surgery. For example:

—21 percent reported neck pain before versus 2 percent after

—40 percent reported shoulder pain before versus 27 percent after

—38 percent reported lower back pain before versus 15 percent after

—75 percent reported knee pain versus 44 percent after

—46 percent reported foot pain versus 8 percent after

In addition symptoms of fibromyalgia or widespread pain and tenderness in muscles and other soft tissues were reduced by 92 percent.

Researchers say this joint and muscle pain relief may be due to a decrease in other health problems following weight loss surgery, such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea (search), gastrointestinal complaints, type 2 diabetes, and asthma, as well as an increase in physical activity.

"This was a highly motivated group of individuals who made major lifestyle changes in addition to their surgery," says Hooper.

Researchers say that these joint pain relief benefits may improve further as weight loss continues following the surgery.

By  Jennifer Warner, reviewed by  Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Hooper, M. "Musculoskeletal Findings in Morbidly Obese Subjects Before and After Weight Loss Due to Gastric Bypass Surgery," presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, San Antonio, Oct. 16-21, 2004. News release, University Hospitals of Cleveland and Calif.