You don’t have to be a medical expert to make the assumption that overloading the weight on a knee joint is a bad idea, but a recent report published by the University of California has demonstrated just how much stress overweight and obese people are putting on their knees.
The research team spent four years monitoring the link between weight loss and the progression of cartilage changes in 640 overweight and obese patients who were either in the risk area for future osteoarthritis or had already been diagnosed with mild to moderate osteoarthritis and were keen to lose weight. The sample group were divided into three: those who lost more than 10% of their body weight by the end of the study, those who lost 5% to 10%, and those whose weight remained stable.
The results? The people in the 5% to 10% group had lower rates of cartilage degeneration when compared to those who didn’t lose weight – and even less cartilage degeneration was reported in the 10% weight-loss group. And not only did the MRI scans on those that had lost weight showed a slower degeneration in the articular cartilage, but there was also a similar result in the menisci – the half-moon-shaped cartilage pads that act as shock-absorbers for the knee joint.
Excess weight and knee damage
It’s a bit of a no-brainer – a heavier weight increases the load on the joints, which creates more stress when we move – but it’s a little more complicated than that. For starters, previous studies have estimated that overweight women have four times the risk of knee osteoarthritis than their counterparts who are of a healthy weight, while overweight men have five times the risk. For the morbidly obese, the stakes are even higher: they’re up to ten times more likely to develop knee OA.
Furthermore, it has been established that people with a higher body weight run the risk of having higher blood levels of substances which can cause inflammation of the joints, raising the risk of OA even higher.
Eat less, move more
There are many factors that bring on knee OA that have nothing to do with a sedentary lifestyle – and, as we all know, the most physically active people can be susceptible to developing it.
But if you’ve piled on the pounds and are worried about the link between excess weight and knee damage, it makes sense to address the issue right away. Studies have demonstrated that a sufficient – but not necessarily drastic – loss of weight results in a decrease in knee OA risk of up to 33% in women and 21% in men. Lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, are always the first option we consider when someone presents with knee pain due to wear and tear changes.