What to Do If Your Orthopaedic Surgery Is Postponed
The resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic due to the Omicron variant has required that the country step up protective measures to prevent the spread of the disease. To this end, many hospitals are once again postponing elective surgeries to help ensure that their resources are available for severely ill patients who may need them.
An elective surgery is a procedure done for a medical condition that is not urgent or life-threatening. Many orthopaedic procedures fall into this category. While an orthopaedic condition may be painful or limit function, it is usually not life-threatening, and surgery can be safely postponed.
A delay in your surgery may be disappointing. You may have already asked for time off from work for the procedure or arranged for a friend or family member to help during your recovery at home. Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an unexpected national emergency and you may be asked to postpone your procedure until the crisis is under control.
What can you do in the meantime? In many cases, there are some simple nonsurgical treatments that can help alleviate painful symptoms until your surgery can be rescheduled.
Orthopaedic Conditions and Nonsurgical Treatments
Listed below are several common orthopaedic problems, along with some frequently recommended nonsurgical treatments. If you are already doing some of these treatments, you can continue on with them until your rescheduled surgery. If not, be sure to check with your surgeon to ensure that they are appropriate for your specific situation.
You may be waiting to have joint replacement surgery on your hip, knee, shoulder, or ankle. More than likely, this is due to painful arthritis in the affected joint.
Until your surgery can be rescheduled, the following treatments may be helpful:
- Changing your activities to avoid doing things that cause painful symptoms.
- Using a walking aid, such as a cane, crutches, or walker, if you have a hip or knee problem.
- Appling either ice or heat to the affected joint, depending on which is more comfortable for you.
- Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen, to control pain and swelling. Acetaminophen and topical anesthetics may also be helpful.
In certain situations, an injection of a corticosteroid into the joint can help relieve pain until your surgery can be rescheduled.
If you are suffering from arthritis in your hip or knee, try to limit walking and avoid stairs as much as possible. If you have a painful shoulder, avoid heavy overhead lifting.
In addition, it is always important to exercise, as this can preserve range of motion in the affected joint. Ask your orthopaedic surgeon for exercises that may be easier for patients with arthritis.
If you are awaiting surgery for a sports injury — such as a labral tear in the shoulder or an anterior cruciate ligament tear in the knee — exercise or physical therapy can help you maintain range of motion and strength in the affected joint.
If your knee is unstable, you should avoid activities that involve pivoting, jumping or rapidly changing direction, as these actions might cause your knee to give out and result in a fall. If you have a meniscus tear in your knee and plan to have arthroscopic surgery, use of a knee support or knee brace and anti-inflammatory medication may help alleviate your symptoms until the procedure can be done.
Even though you may be in pain, spinal surgery can often be delayed. Nonsurgical treatment consists of rest and avoiding activities that could make your pain worse — such as bending or lifting. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and pain medication or muscle relaxants can often help to lessen your symptoms until your surgery can be rescheduled.
If you have been on an exercise or conditioning program, you may wish to continue. You should notify your doctor, however, if you experience neurologic changes such as weakness or numbness in your arms or legs, or sudden loss of bladder or bowel control.
Read more: Herniated Disk in the Lower Back
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Symptoms from carpal tunnel syndrome can often be quite painful. If your surgery is postponed, you may get relief from wearing a wrist splint and taking anti-inflammatory medication. Your doctor may also be able to give you a corticosteroid injection to the carpal canal. This may relieve symptoms for a short time until your surgery can be rescheduled.
Read more: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Vaccination and Corticosteroid Injections
If you are having a corticosteroid injection for an orthopaedic condition, such as arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome, your doctor may advise you to wait for a few days after the injection before receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. They may also recommend waiting for a period of time after vaccination.
Your doctor can answer any questions you may have about the timing of corticosteroid injections and COVID-19 vaccination.
Most hospitals will allow procedures that need to be done on an emergency or urgent basis to go forward. Emergency or urgent orthopaedic procedures may include:
- Fractures in which the pieces of bone are out of place
- Tendon ruptures
- Open wounds
- Bone tumors
- Disk herniations in the spine that cause a loss of feeling or movement in a limb
Some of these conditions require that surgery be done right away, others within a few days.
Be aware that many hospitals are redirecting surgeries to other hospitals or surgical centers, so it is important to confirm the planned location of your surgery.
Your orthopaedic surgeon can advise you as to the best timing of and location for any emergency procedure.
If you have any questions or problems during the pandemic, it is important to maintain communication with your surgeon. Often, a simple telephone call may give you valuable information if you have a routine orthopaedic problem or until you can have your rescheduled surgery.
In addition, many surgeons now offer the option of a video teleconference during which you can speak to your surgeon face-to-face, describe your symptoms, and ask questions. In some cases, this may allow you to show a picture or live-stream of a problem — such as a swollen joint or an open wound — to your doctor.
Your orthopaedic surgeon will do all they can to help treat your orthopaedic problems during the pandemic.
If you experience non-orthopaedic problems that could be related to a viral illness, such as fever, vomiting, dehydration, or shortness of breath, contact your regular physician immediately.
For More Information
OrthoInfo has developed a number of COVID-related resources for orthopaedic patients, including Questions and Answers for Patients Regarding Elective Surgery and COVID-19 and Ortho-pinions from AAOS member surgeons on safe care via telemedicine, staying fit during the pandemic, and more: COVID-19-Information for Patients
In addition, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has created a hub where member surgeons can easily access a wide range of relevant and credible COVID-19 resources and information: COVID-19: AAOS Member Resource Center.
The Centers for Disease Control has created a helpful website to provide patients and healthcare professionals with the most recent updates about COVID-19: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
This article was updated in January 2022 with input from the AAOS Patient Safety Committee.
Contributed and/or Updated by
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.