Osteoarthritis and Weight Loss

Small losses can mean big gains

Mature couple working out on treadmmills to keep their weight in check and help relieve osteoarthritis symptoms.

Small losses can mean big gains

Do you have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more? Do one or both of your knees hurt when you rise from a sitting position? 

If you experience chronic knee pain, you may have osteoarthritis (OA) — the most common form of arthritis. More than 30 million Americans have OA, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). OA is the gradual breaking down of cartilage and bone within a joint and most often occurs in the knees, hips and hands, according to the CDC.

OA in knees is characterized by gradual loss of cartilage on the ends of the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shine bone) or back of the patella (knee cap). OA can worsen over time, causing pain, swelling, stiffness and disability in the worst cases.

Having a diagnosis of knee OA, however, doesn’t automatically mean that you need knee replacement surgery. Many people with knee OA can make lifestyle changes that help reduce pain and slow progression of the disease. 

At or near the top of the list of lifestyle changes is losing extra weight.

Consider this: Losing a single pound removes the equivalent load of 3 pounds on your knees and 4 pounds on your hips. Losing 10 pounds of unwanted weight can eliminate 30 pounds of load on your knees and 40 pounds of load on your hips.

Extra weight can add up during the day. Researchers at Wake Forest University found that 1 pound of body weight over a mile of walking is the equivalent to an accumulated knee load of 4,800 pounds. 

According to the CDC, risk factors of developing knee OA include:

A graphic shows the impact that extra weight has on your joints and what to do about it.

According to the CDC, risk factors of developing knee OA include:

  • Experiencing a knee injury
  • Being over age 50
  • Being a woman
  • Being obese
  • Having family members with OA

Are your knees healthy and pain-free but you have a BMI of 25 or more? Prevention of OA in your knees is possible. 

“A combination of balanced diet and consistent low-impact exercise program can go a long way to helping you shed unnecessary weight and reduce the load on your knees,” says Christopher Hajnik, MD, a Scripps orthopedic surgeon. Some examples of low-impact exercises include cycling (indoor or outdoor), swimming and walking.

Because cartilage can’t replace itself naturally, lifestyle changes can play a big part in helping patients with diagnosed knee OA avoid a joint replacement surgery down the road. Be sure to see your doctor before making dietary modifications or starting an exercise program.

According to the CDC, a combination of therapies for knee OA can include:

  • Weight loss
  • Low-impact exercises and physical activity
  • Physical therapy with exercises to strengthen muscles that support the knee
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers, knee injections or prescription medications
  • Supportive devices such as braces or canes
  • Surgery, if conservative options have not been effective

Download the infographic on osteoarthritis and weight loss. (PNG, 253907B)

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