Osteoarthritis and Weight Loss

The most common factor in knee OA

The most common factor in knee OA

Did you know that only 3 mm of cartilage protects the end of a healthy thigh bone (femur) or shin bone (tibia)? If that protective cartilage wears away, you can end up with chronic knee pain, limited mobility and more. The cartilage loss can eventually lead to osteoarthritis (OA).

Now consider this: the loss of 10 excess pounds reduces a woman’s risk of developing OA by 50 percent. And the loss of that same 10 pounds for a woman or man is equal to removing 4,800 pounds of compressive force off each knee over the course of a one-mile walk. That’s the average weight of two adult giraffes.

What is OA?

An infographic with giraffes to show the affect of body weight on knee pain.

What is OA?

OA is the loss of cartilage in the body’s joints, such as the knee or hip. Symptoms of OA vary by patient, but the bottom line is that the joint has changed and no longer has the same cushioning it did when it was healthy. 

OA can happen in varying degrees of intensity. Symptoms can range from one to a few to many. These can happen together or simultaneously, according to Dr. Adam Rosen, an orthopedic surgeon at Scripps Clinic.

Common symptoms of knee OA include:

  • Pain, burning or stabbing sensations
  •  Popping or other noises as you bend your knee (called crepitation)
  • Limited mobility
  • Changes in your knee’s range of motion
  • Swelling and/or fullness
  • A “catching” sensation
  • A “giving way” sensation

According to multiple studies, weight is the most common factor in developing knee OA. The disease can start earlier in life than most people realize. And while no FDA-approved drug can stop the OA process once it’s started, you can take steps to slow it down.

Weight loss as a non-surgical option

Depending on OA severity, losing excess weight can help ease OA pain. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends weight loss for OA knee patients who have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher. The AAOS also encourages low-impact aerobic activity to help in weight loss efforts. 

Simple types of low-impact exercises (like walking, cycling and swimming) can help your body burn more calories and begin to shed excess weight, if you eat fewer calories than your body burns each day.