Orthopedic surgeons are well aware that joint replacement surgeries can reduce patients' pain and emotional distress, however a recent study explored how hip and knee replacements can improve marriages, too.
“It started with a thank you note,” Dr. Michael Tanzer, lead author and orthopedic surgeon at McGill University Health Center in Montréal, Québec, said in a press release. “My patient’s wife wrote to tell me how delighted she was to have her husband’s quality of life back because of the dramatic effect it had on her own life and their marriage. This one gesture of gratitude made me think about the impact of joint replacement surgery in a way I had taken for granted.”
The study noted how spouses of such patients often assume the role of caregiver. Research has demonstrated how spouses report reduced marital satisfaction, higher rates of depression and a lower quality of life.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of bones wears down over time, according to the Mayo Clinic. In severe joint damage, hips and knees are most often replaced to relieve pain and improve mobility.
Tanzer said the team conducted a pilot study to evaluate spouses' perception of patients' pain and disability before and after total hip or knee replacement.
The study’s sample of 33 couples, who were on average 68 years old, revealed that the spouses rated the patients’ pain levels “significantly” higher, both before and after surgery, as opposed to what the patients reported.
Patients said the most significant effect from surgery was their improved mobility. Other benefits included resuming leisure and sporting activities, an improvement in pain and improvement in social and family lives.
Meanwhile, spouses had different priorities.
Most of them said the largest advantage post-surgery was the ability to carry on with social and leisure activities with their partner. Other benefits included no longer witnessing the patient suffering, a diminished caregiver burden and a sense of independence to resume their normal life, among other advantages.
“As an orthopedic surgeon, it’s important to consider the well-being of your patient’s spouse and know that they too are likely experiencing the burdens of living with a functional disability,” Tanzer said.
“The emotional and social impact as well as the physical challenges can be many and by continuing to research and bring more resources to the clinical setting, we can help both orthopedic surgeons and patients create a better quality of life from diagnosis through to treatment.”
In the study, couples had been married for an average of 36.5 years. To participate in the study, subjects had to have been living with a spouse for at least five years before the surgery. The patients lived with an osteoarthritis diagnosis for an average of seven years, with an average wait time of 8.7 months to receive an operation.
The study was released as part of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons' Virtual Education Experience called "Marital Relationship and Quality of Life in Couples Following Joint Replacement Surgery."