How Your Weight Affects Your Joints

By Laura DeAndrade, MSN, ANP-BC

Obesity affects all organs of the human body. It does not discriminate. One of the major systems affected in the body is the musculoskeletal system. People of any age, including teenagers, can start to feel the effects of weight on their joints even if they are only ten pounds overweight. For every pound loss, this equates to four pounds off the knees. So, if a person loses 100 pounds, this is equivalent to 400 pounds of stress the knees are no longer carrying with each step. Over time, the excess stress confronting your joints can lead to joint pain and osteoarthritis. Obesity will only accelerate the progression of arthritis and cause pain to develop much more quickly than someone of normal weight. Not only does excess weight cause the progression of arthritis, but excess weight also causes the body to produce certain inflammatory markers that can increase inflammation leading to more joint pains.

Losing weight cannot necessarily cure osteoarthritis but can certainly put less stress on the joints. Less stress on the major joints of the body will lead to less pain. There is no way to regenerate the cartilage degeneration between the joints and if you do require a joint replacement at some point, it is important to lose weight to decrease the stress on your new joint. Remember, if you even lose 10 pounds, your knees will feel like 40 pounds of excess weight has been lifted from them.

Exercise is an important factor in strengthening muscles and keeping joints freely moving. The more sedentary you are, the worse your joints will feel in the long run. It’s not uncommon for someone with severe osteoarthritis to remain extremely sedentary strictly because they are “just in too much pain”. The real answer is that with the appropriate exercises joint pain can begin to be eased.

Exercising for those that have osteoarthritis needs to be safely done. It is important to discuss safe exercising with your treating physician, physical therapist or other healthcare practitioner before starting any exercise program. Not all exercises are beneficial. Exercising for the patient with osteoarthritis should include the following:

  1. Low impact exercise is key. Any further stress on the joints needs to be avoided. Some great low impact exercises include swimming, cycling, yoga and Pilates.
  2. Physical therapy consultation. Physical therapy will help strengthen the muscles surrounding the painful joints. This makes the joint better supported and able to accept exercise. Physical therapy may be a good idea before starting a low impact exercise program to get the muscles strengthened first.

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