Obesity and joint pain
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Q: Does it really make any difference if an overweight or obese person with knee osteoarthritis loses weight? How much weight loss would it take? HW, Greenville
A: People are amazed when I tell them there are more than 200 medical conditions that have been linked to overweight and obesity. So, the best thing we can do for ourselves is avoid gaining excess weight by eating the right amount and being physically active.
Priya Patel, an ECU dietetics major learned that for a person who experiences osteoarthritis, maintaining a healthy weight can prevent pain, improve function and slow down the progression of the condition. Here is what she wants you to know about osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis occurring most often in the hands, hips and knees.
You probably know people that experience the pain, stiffness and swelling of osteoarthritis. The condition is caused by the breakdown of cartilage within the joint and the underlying bone begins to wear down. Sometimes the osteoarthritis can reduce joint function and cause disability. Doctors know that people with obesity have a greater risk of developing osteoarthritis due to the extra weight putting more pressure onto the joints, especially joints that support more weight like the hips and knees.
It would seem to make sense that losing weight would reduce the stress put onto those joints. If you think about the numbers, you would see that being overweight by 10 pounds can increase the force on your knees by 30-60 pounds per step. Ouch! In fact, a study done down the road at Wake Forest University showed that losing as little as a 10 percent of weight can reduce, pain, swelling and stiffness. So, if you weigh 200 pounds and your BMI is greater than 30, a loss of 20 pounds would improve your well being.
The researchers found that weight loss from both diet and exercise reduced pain and inflammation. The participants in the study were able to walk faster and function better. Losing more helped more. The researchers found that the person that lost 20 percent of their weight had significantly less inflammation than the one who lost only 5 percent. The participants also reported less pain and could walk further during the 6- minute test.
For some individuals this amount of weight loss could reduce or even eliminate the amount of paint medications they needed to take. It is true that weight loss can be achieved by calorie restriction alone and that would improve the inflammation, but exercise is needed to improve joint function, movement and reduce pain. The right kind of diet and physical activity is important, too, during weight loss, to maintain or restore muscle mass. A person with osteoarthritis would benefit from a visit with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) to ensure the weight loss plan will result in fat loss, not lean body or muscle mass and provide all the nutrients needed for health. The RDN can also advise the person with osteoarthritis how to follow the Mediterranean way of eating.
A recent study that included almost 4,500 Americans with osteoarthritis found that the more closely they followed the Mediterranean way they experienced decreased pain, disability and depressive symptoms. They also scored higher on the quality of life scale.
Want to learn more about the Mediterranean diet to be ready for your appointment with the RDN? Go to the great North Carolina website: www.medinsteadofmeds.com. Watch the 7 simple step videos: change your protein; swap your fats; eat more vegetables; eat more fruit; snack on nuts and seeds; make your grains whole; and rethink your sweets.
Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an affiliate professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.