Joint Health and Activity

Joint Health and ActivityMost people are well aware that obesity increases the risk of both heart disease and diabetes. But not as many realize that being overweight can increase the risk of developing certain arthritic conditions, including osteoarthritis.

As many as one in five Americans have been told by their doctors that they have arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But for Americans who are either overweight or obese, the figures advance to more than 22 percent and 31 percent, respectively.

The Relationship Between Joint Pain and Obesity

Our joints are made of cartilage, which is a tough, yet flexible connective tissue that extends over the ends of our bones at the joints. Age, wear-and-tear, injury, and heredity are all factors that can break down this cartilage over time.

Yet another factor — excess weight — places stress on the joint, causing it to wear down and become damaged, and often leads to joint pain in many individuals. Further, fat cells produce inflammatory chemicals that are believed to aggravate arthritic conditions even in non-weight bearing joints.

Weight Loss Can Reduce Stress on Weight-Bearing Joints

Fortunately, maintaining a healthy weight, or losing weight if you are overweight or obese, has a positive effect on the joints. One study in which patients reported having joint pain in their knees and back found that painful symptoms of hips, knees and other joints were reduced after a 100-pound weight loss. Before the weight loss, 57 percent of patients experienced knee pain versus 14 percent after weight loss.

In another study, known as the Framingham Osteoarthritis Study, men who lost enough weight to be reclassified from obese to overweight, or from overweight to normal weight, experienced a 20 percent decrease in knee osteoarthritis. Women who were similarly reclassified saw an even further reduction (33 percent) in knee osteoarthritis.

“Being overweight is an important modifiable risk factor for osteoarthritis in the knees, hips, and hands,” according to David T. Felson, director, Clinical Epidemiology and professor of Medicine and Public Health, Boston University School of Medicine.

The key phrase in Felson’s quote is “modifiable risk factor.” Individuals who are overweight or obese stand to lessen their joint pain by losing weight. That’s because the force on the knee, for example, is increased by up to 60 pounds per step just by being 10 pounds overweight. When applied to the hip joint, that force is three times the body weight.

Take Action to Ease Joint Pain

There are a few things you can do if you are experiencing joint pain or want to take preventive action to protect your joints:

  • Keep your joints lubricated by eating fatty cold-water fish such as mackerel and salmon.
  • Increase your physical activity to keep your joints more mobile.
  • Strengthen your bone health with vitamin D and calcium.

But above all, lose weight if you are overweight or obese. If you’re having trouble maintaining a healthy weight, seek help from a weight-loss professional.