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Systematic Review

The effect of sarcopenia on outcomes following orthopaedic surgery

a systematic review

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Sarcopenia is characterized by a generalized progressive loss of skeletal muscle mass, strength, and physical performance. This systematic review primarily evaluated the effects of sarcopenia on postoperative functional recovery and mortality in patients undergoing orthopaedic surgery, and secondarily assessed the methods used to diagnose and define sarcopenia in the orthopaedic literature.


A systematic search was conducted in MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Google Scholar databases according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. Studies involving sarcopenic patients who underwent defined orthopaedic surgery and recorded postoperative outcomes were included. The quality of the criteria by which a diagnosis of sarcopenia was made was evaluated. The quality of the publication was assessed using Newcastle-Ottawa Scale.


A total of 365 studies were identified and screened, 26 full-texts were reviewed, and 19 studies were included in the review. A total of 3,009 patients were included, of whom 2,146 (71%) were female and 863 (29%) were male. The mean age of the patients was 75.1 years (SD 7.1). Five studies included patients who underwent spinal surgery, 13 included hip or knee surgery, and one involved patients who underwent fixation of a distal radial fixation. The mean follow-up was 1.9 years (SD 1.9; 5 days to 5.6 years). There was wide heterogeneity in the measurement tools which were used and the parameters for the diagnosis of sarcopenia in the studies. Sarcopenia was associated with at least one deleterious effect on surgical outcomes in all 19 studies. The postoperative rate of mortality was reported in 11 studies (57.9%) and sarcopenia was associated with poorer survival in 73% (8/11) of these. The outcome was most commonly assessed using the Barthel Index (4/19), and sarcopenic patients recorded lower scores in 75% (3/4) of these. Sarcopenia was defined using the gold-standard three parameters (muscle strength, muscle quantity or quality, and muscle function) in four studies (21%), using two parameters in another four (21%) and one in the remaining 11 (58%). The methodological quality of the studies was moderate to high.


There is much heterogeneity in the reporting of the parameters which are used for the diagnosis of sarcopenia, and evaluating the outcome of orthopaedic surgery in sarcopenic patients. However, what data exist suggest that sarcopenia impairs recovery and increases postoperative mortality, especially in patients undergoing emergency surgery. Further research is required to develop processes that allow the accurate diagnosis of sarcopenia in orthopaedics, which may facilitate targeted pre- and postoperative interventions that would improve outcomes.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2022;104-B(3):321–330.

Correspondence should be sent to David F. Hamilton. E-mail:

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