Looking to Keep Your Joints Healthy? Lose Weight.
Aside from genetic issues, few things shorten a joint’s shelf life more dramatically than having to carry around too much weight. Data from the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HANES I) underscores this finding, indicating that obese women have nearly four times the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis as non-obese women. For obese men, the risk is nearly five times greater.
Simply put, obesity is a risk factor for getting certain types of arthritis and it makes every type of arthritis harder to manage.
But it’s not only obese people who are at risk. If you’re more than 10 pounds overweight, you’re putting an unhealthy stress on your joints. If you want to gain an edge in preserving your joint health, keeping your weight down is the single best thing you can do to modify your risk for developing osteoarthritis.
You need to know how weight impacts your joints.
It helps to understand the dynamics of how your joints bear weight. Because of the muscles acting across the knee and hip joints, normal walking causes a force across the joints that is equal to approximately four times your body weight. Every one pound of body weight translates to four pounds of pressure on your knees and hips. So if you are 10 pounds overweight, the force on your knees is increased by almost 40 pounds.
Weight loss reduces pressure on your joints.
Even small amounts of weight loss will decrease this force and slow down the joint’s deterioration. Losing weight reduces the stress on the affected joints, and can mean the difference between needing surgery or not. For a woman of normal height, for every 11 pound weight loss (approximately two BMI units), the risk of knee arthritis drops more than 50 percent!
Weight loss eases joint pain.
People with arthritis who lose weight also experience reduced pain. A Wake Forest study on knee pain showed that participants who lost 10 percent or more of their weight over the course of the experiment reported a 50 percent reduction in pain. Even more significant, the more weight the participants lost, the less arthritis pain they felt. People who lost at least 20 percent of their weight experienced 25 percent less discomfort than patients who lost no more than 10 percent of their weight.
Weight loss reduces inflammation.
Adipose tissue—more commonly known as body fat—is a very important and active endocrine organ. It creates and releases pro-inflammatory chemicals that are a vital part of the immune system’s response to injury and infection. But too much body fat can trigger what’s known as chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation causes and advances many common diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of inflammatory arthritis. You can control —and even reverse — inflammation by losing weight and following a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet. Weight loss reduces your body’s fat stores, and thus reduces your body’s overall level of inflammation.
Weight loss improves joint function.
Because weight lost reduces the compressive forces inside the joint, joint function is improved. This is particularly true for patients with knee osteoarthritis, who report noticeable improvements in mobility, physical activity, and daily function after losing at least 10 percent of their body weight.
Maintaining a healthy weight is critical to maintaining healthy joints.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for your overall wellbeing. But it’s also important for reducing overall wear and tear on your joints.
It sounds almost too simple, but for many of our overweight or obese patients, weight loss is the essential first step in non-operative treatment of arthritis. Moreover, maintaining a healthy body weight through an effective diet and exercise program is one of the best ways to decrease your chances of developing arthritis down the road.
If you are ready to lose weight, but aren’t sure where to start, the Arthritis Foundation‘s website offers several articles about choosing a weight-loss program and overcoming common weight-loss hurdles. Noom is another program we can recommend; some of our patients have had great success with this behavioral-science based weight loss app.
If you want to preserve your joint health, start losing that excess weight today. Your joints will thank you tomorrow.