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Joint Pain and Obesity

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Updated January 07, 2009

Joint Pain and Obesity:

Our joints carry the weight of our bodies. The more weight we have to carry, the harder it is for our joints to work properly. Even small changes in weight can significantly affect the joint pain experienced by an individual. Don't believe that? Try a simple test of carrying 15 pounds of weight while doing all of your normal activities.

Even small weight changes make a big difference because joint forces in the hips and knees increase about 3 times that weight with normal walking. This means that 15 pounds of extra body weight is felt by the knees as an extra 45 pounds.

Obesity Accelerates Arthritis:

We know that the chance of developing arthritis is strongly associated with body weight. Yes, there are thin people with arthritis, and heavy people with healthy joints. But overall, the chance of developing arthritis in your joints is strongly associated with your body weight. People with a high body mass index (BMI) tend to get arthritis at a younger age. Having joint replacement at a younger age can complicate treatment because the replacement is more likely to wear out in the patient's lifetime.

Weight Loss Alleviates Joint Pain:

Losing weight may not reverse the damage that has been done to a joint, but research has shown that even moderate weight losses can have a dramatic effect on the relief of joint pain. While getting down to a normal body weight is a good idea for people who are overweight, starting with reasonable goals like losing 10 or 20 pounds can help with join pain.

Even if joints are painful, there are ways to exercise without pain. Studies have shown that a weight loss of 11 pounds decreases the risk of developing knee arthritis by 50%.

Obesity May Complicate Joint Replacement Surgery:

There have been numerous investigations into the effect obesity has on the results of joint replacement surgery. Some of these studies have found a higher chance of infection, blood clots, and dislocation after hip replacement. We know that joint replacement surgery takes longer in obese individuals (a longer period of anesthesia is necessary), and the recovery may take longer, too. However, most studies have found similar pain relief and overall benefits of joint replacement surgery.

Weight Loss Can Occur, Even With Bad Joints:

No one can say the weight loss is easy, and it can be especially difficult when you have arthritic joints. But there are ways to exercise, even with joint pain. The key to exercise when you have joint problems is to find low-impact activities, including cycling, swimming, and aerobics. These activities can raise your heart rate to boost cardiovascular fitness, while not placing such demands on your joints.
Sources:

Changulani M, et al. "The relationship between obesity and the age at which hip and knee replacement is undertaken" J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2008 Mar;90(3):360-3.

Felson DT and Chaisson CE "Understanding the relationship between body weight and osteoarthritis" Baillieres Clinical Rheumatology 1997;11:671-681.

Felson DT "Weight and osteoarthritis" J.Rheumatol. 1995;43:7-9.

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