Nearly half of orthopedic surgery patients have low vitamin D, and thus reduced odds of a good recovery

“Low vitamin D has an implication in terms of muscle and fracture healing, it occurs in about 50% of people coming in for orthopedic surgery, and it is eminently correctable.”

Almost 50% of patients undergoing orthopedic surgery have vitamin D deficiency that should be corrected before surgery to improve patient outcomes, based on a study by researchers at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City (published Oct 6 in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery).

Vitamin D is essential for bone healing and muscle function and is critical for a patient’s recovery. “In the perfect world, test levels, fix, and then operate,” said HHS orthopedic surgeon Joseph Lane, MD, who led the study.

“If you put people on [supplemental] vitamin D based on what their deficient value was, you can usually get them corrected in four to six weeks, which is when you are really going to need the vitamin D,” adds Dr. Lane.

“If you are really aggressive right before surgery, you can correct deficient levels quickly, but you have to correct it, measure it, and then act on it.”

According to Dr. Lane, bone remodeling or bone tissue formation – a part of the healing process – occurs about two to four weeks after surgery. This is the critical stage when your body needs vitamin D.

For their study, investigators conducted a retrospective chart review of 723 patients who were scheduled for orthopedic surgery between January 2007 and March 2008 at HSS.

They examined the vitamin D levels, which had been measured in all patients before their surgery, and found that 43% had insufficient vitamin D, and 40% had deficient levels.
 
Vitamin D inadequacy was defined as less than 32 ng/mL, vitamin D insufficiency was defined as 20 to less than 32 ng/mL, and vitamin D deficiency was defined at less than 20 ng/mL.

• Problems were more prevalent in younger patients, men, and individuals with dark skin – blacks and Hispanic.

• The highest levels of deficiency were seen in patients in the Trauma Service, where 66% of patients had insufficient levels and 52% had deficient levels.

• Of the patients undergoing Foot and Ankle Surgery, 34% had inadequate levels,

• And of patients undergoing Hand Surgery, 40% had insufficient levels.

• In the Sports Medicine Service, 52.3% had insufficient levels and one-third of these, or 17% of the total, had deficient levels. “We frequently see stress fractures in the Sports Medicine Service and if you want to heal, you have to fix the calcium and vitamin D,” said Dr. Lane.

• In the Arthroplasty Service, which conducts hip and knee replacements, 38% had inadequate levels and 48% had deficient levels.

“With arthroplasty there is a certain number of patients that when you put in the prothesis, it breaks the bone adjacent to the protheses, which can really debilitate patients,” Dr. Lane explains. This could be prevented or minimized by rectifying vitamin D levels.

Dr. Lane also explained that they now perform procedures where they grow a bone into a prosthesis without using cement. “In those people, it would be an advantage to have adequate vitamin D, because it matures the bone as it grows in, it is really healing into the prosthesis,” he said.

“The take home message is that low vitamin D has an implication in terms of muscle and fracture healing, it occurs in about 50% of people coming in for orthopedic surgery, and it is eminently correctable,” Dr. Lane said.

“We recommend that people undergoing a procedure that involves the bone or the muscle should correct their vitamin D if they want to have an earlier faster, better, result. What we are saying is ‘wake up guys, smell the coffee; half of your patients have a problem, measure it, and if they are low, then fix it.’”

In recent years, vitamin D deficiency has been recognized as a common phenomenon and is caused by many factors.

• It is difficult to get from foods, except, for example, cod liver oil and fish.

• Until recently, the recommended daily allowance was set too low, so foods were not supplemented with adequate doses.

• And third, while people can absorb vitamin D from sunlight, people these days often work long hours and often use sunscreen that impedes vitamin D intake.

The study was funded, in part, by the Charles Cohn Foundation of Rockville Centre, NY….

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Source: Hospital for Special Surgery (New York) news release, Oct 6, 2010

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