Our knowledge of orthopaedics. Your best health.

from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Diseases & Conditions



Staying Healthy

Resuming Orthopaedic Surgery After COVID-19

Karen Sutton, MD

Karen M. Sutton, MD, FAAOS

Any views or recommendations shared in the Ortho-pinions blog are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 

We have all experienced some form of disruption in our lives due to the need to protect ourselves and our communities from COVID-19. As orthopaedic patients, you may have experienced some unique complications due to the pandemic. You may have had your surgery cancelled, rescheduled, or postponed. You may have been unable to see your orthopaedic surgeon or physical therapist in person and had to meet via a telehealth visit. As orthopaedic surgeons, we understand the anxiety and uncertainty this may cause, and we remain completely committed to your health, safety, and overall well-being—especially as we begin to transition back to a new normal in your care.

Many states and cities are beginning to resume nonessential orthopaedic surgeries. This could mean that you are being scheduled for an orthopaedic surgery in upcoming weeks, but it may look different than what you are used to or had originally expected.

Some changes that you can expect include:

  • COVID-19 testing prior to your surgery: You may be tested before your procedure to ensure that you are COVID-19 negative.
    • As more knowledge becomes available, we may see a transition from nasal swab testing to antibody testing. The COVID-19 nasal test is a nasopharyngeal swab that detects current infection with the COVID-19 virus. The antibody test is a blood test that detects previous infection with the virus, and may indicate you are temporarily immune to COVID-19. Currently, physicians are still learning about the relevance and use of the antibody test.
  • Limited or no visitors before your surgery: In some cases, your family/friends may not be permitted inside the hospital before your surgery. This is done to limit the number of people who may have possibly come in contact with the virus and become infected. (Pediatric patients under the age of 18 may have a guardian present; please refer to your hospital for specific standards.)
  • Hospital staff may be wearing face masks: Do not be alarmed or frightened by this. This is a safety measure designed to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19. In addition to wearing masks, hospital staff may also be routinely screened for COVID-19.
  • Specially designated surgical areas: Orthopaedic surgeries may now be occurring in a part of the hospital that is designated for non-COVID patients. You may notice that the layout of the facility has changed for this reason.
  • Virtual, rather than in-person, postoperative visits and physical therapy sessions: Your surgeon and physical therapist will work with you on making these visits as productive and helpful as possible.
  • Changes to anesthesia. Peripheral nerve blocks and spinal anesthesia may be used instead of general anesthesia to limit compromise to the lungs; however, general anesthesia may still be required for certain procedures.

Even as some surgeries begin to resume, your surgery might still be delayed. There are a few reasons why some surgeries may not occur until further notice:

  • If you are considered a patient who is at higher risk for complications of COVID-19, you may have your surgery delayed. Based on the data that we have seen thus far, patients over the age of 65 and those with a prior history of cardiac or respiratory illnesses, diabetes, kidney disease, or immunosuppressed conditions may be at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications.
  • If you are having an inpatient surgery (a surgery that requires a brief hospital stay afterwards) you might have your surgery delayed. Many hospitals may begin with outpatient surgeries (a surgery where you go home the same day) or surgeries that require just an overnight stay.

It is important to note that every hospital will have its own specific protocols for ensuring your health and safety. Do not hesitate to contact your surgeon’s office with any pre-surgery questions or concerns you have. We are here for you and want you to be as comfortable as possible going into your surgery.

Read more:  Preparing for Surgery: Health Condition Checklist

Last Reviewed

May 2020

Contributed and/or Updated by

Karen M. Sutton, MD, FAAOSAngela M. Mercurio, BS

AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS Find an Orthopaedist program on this website.