Carrying a few extra pounds can raise your risk for a variety of health problems, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. But did you know that being overweight can also take a toll on your joints?
“Your body weight multiplies the pressure exerted on the joints,” explains orthopedic surgeon Kwame Ennin, M.D., of Texas Center for Joint Replacement, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. “Depending on the activity you engage in, the stress on a joint such as the knee can be 4 to 6 times your body weight. In the case of a hip joint, the stress can be anywhere from 3 to 11 times your body weight.”
Carrying just 10 pounds of excess weight can, therefore, translate to 100 pounds of pressure on the hip joints and another 60 pounds of force that the knee joint experiences. It’s a significant increase that can result in joint damage and joint pain over time. Joints commonly affected by excess weight are the knees, hips and lower back (lumbar spine).
Options for Relief from Chronic Joint Pain
Every person presents a unique challenge and must be evaluated on their overall health, but Dr. Ennin notes that there are cases in which patients who are overweight and experiencing joint pain might consider taking action.
“Before surgery is ever recommended, we prescribe anti-inflammatories-either taken orally or injected directly into the joints-to try to manage the pain,” Dr. Ennin says. “Physical therapy is also prescribed in order to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility. Of course, medical weight loss can be prescribed to reduce the forces on the joints.
If a person has mild to moderate arthritis and he or she is significantly overweight, there is a potential benefit to creating a program for weight loss. The type of weight loss I would recommend would not be a ‘crash-course’ diet, but rather one that is healthy and physician monitored. Although this type of weight loss program might be slower than others to show progress in some cases, the resulting weight reduction may reduce the patient’s symptoms of mild to moderate arthritis. This means the patient could avoid hip or knee joint replacement surgery by losing their excess weight.”
According to Dr. Ennin, the situation changes, however, when the person has more severe issues.
“In the case of a person with severe arthritis who is significantly overweight, there may be a benefit to losing weight and then undergoing joint replacement surgery. However, when someone loses a significant amount of weight in a short period of time, they can become malnourished. This is a condition that puts off surgery.
If the patient can’t wait and the surgery is needed sooner, there might not be a significant advantage to weight loss before the procedure. Surgery is the final option in most cases, as we do everything we can to manage symptoms in the most conservative means regardless of a patient’s weight.”
Can Healthy Foods Lead to Stronger Joints?
The best way to lose weight is through diet and exercise. For patients who are significantly overweight and have arthritis, the guidance of a weight management specialist or bariatric surgeon may be helpful as they undertake a weight-loss journey.
“As a physician, my primary concern is nutrition,” Dr. Ennin says. “If a patient is malnourished, poor bone quality can occur. Someone with a diet that does not include the proper amount of vitamins, such as vitamin D or calcium, over a long period of time would likely have a decrease in bone density. This will make them susceptible to osteoporosis or osteopenia (weak bones), both of which are associated with osteoarthritis.”
While there is no specific food that positively affects joint health, Dr. Ennin points out that there is data that suggests glucosamine and conjointin are components of joint cartilage. Taking supplements of these compounds may improve the symptoms of arthritis. However, there is little research to suggest that taking these supplements causes cartilage to regrow.