The knee joints carry an enormous burden as we perform basic movements like walking or climbing stairs, and this burden is increased for people who are overweight. This extra stress from weight can put you at a higher risk for osteoarthritis (OA), the “wear-and-tear” form of arthritis.
As obesity rates in the country soar, 27 million Americans now have OA, per the Arthritis Foundation. But even a small weight loss of 10 to 15 pounds can make a great difference for knee OA pain and can postpone or even prevent the need for joint replacement surgery. Because there is no medication that stops OA after it has started, diet and exercise are vital.
Body Weight, Joint Pain and Osteoarthritis
Even just 10 pounds of excess body weight increases the force on the knee by 30 to 60 pounds with every single step, a huge increase when multiplied by thousands of steps per day. A force of nearly three to six times your body weight is exerted across the knee when you walk.
Being overweight has been associated with higher rates of OA. Overweight women have nearly four times the risk of developing OA, and overweight men have five times the risk. This data has been confirmed across numerous population-based studies.
Weight Loss Benefits
Even moderate weight loss can make a big difference in your pain levels, and can help delay the progression of OA in many cases. Specific benefits from this kind of weight loss may include:
- • Surgery: In some cases, losing weight can prevent the need for surgery to replace the knee joint. In addition, many orthopedic surgeons simply won’t do these surgeries for people who are overweight, so slimming down first is a requirement.
- • Symptom relief: Losing weight will help reduce pain and other OA symptoms. The exact reduction will vary from person to person, but the load on the knee will go down.
- • Risk: Losing even small amounts of weight can hugely lower the risk of developing OA. For women of an average height, for instance, every 11 pounds of weight loss led to the risk of OA dropping by greater than 50 percent.
Losing Weight Effectively
Many people struggle to stick to weight loss plans, and the ability to get more people on them could significantly reduce the need for total knee replacement surgery. Here are a few general tips:
- • Set yourself up to succeed, not to fail: This means making realistic weight loss goals that you can reach, such as losing 10 or 15 pounds over a reasonable period of time.
- • Understand that it’s more than exercise: Exercise is one part of losing weight, but diet is another. Consider a nutritionist or dietician to help you find healthier substitutes for your favorites.
- • Substitute for healthier options: Look for whole-grain options over refined grain products. In addition, aim for foods that are good sources of fiber—these foods can make you feel more full, which can make you less likely to eat too much.
If you’re dealing with osteoarthritis pain in your knees, speak to your doctor about how weight loss might benefit your situation.
I find satisfaction in helping patients recover and enjoy life again. I aim to treat each patient individually and maintain open communication throughout the treatment process.
“Weight Loss Strategies to Help Ease Osteoarthritis Pain.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/features/weight-loss#1
“Role of Body Weight in Osteoarthritis.” Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. https://www.hopkinsarthritis.org/patient-corner/disease-management/role-of-body-weight-in-osteoarthritis/