Arthritis is a chronic disease of the joints, characterized by the damage of cartilage. The once smooth cartilage that lines all articulating surfaces begins to degenerate, causing the articulating bones to painfully rub against each other during movement. Age and genetics are factors that usually contribute to the development of arthritis. Surprisingly, there is also an avoidable cause – excess weight.
Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, is caused by wear-and-tear at the joints. The more pressure applied on the joints, the greater the damage. Obesity mainly affects the weight-bearing joints such as the hips and knees. Although these joints are well equipped to take on the weight of the body, every pound of extra weight exerts 4 pounds of excess stress on the knee joint. This increases exponentially in overweight and obese individuals, adding more pressure to the joints. Furthermore, regular activities such as climbing stairs, walking, and getting in and out of a car can increase the pressure on your joints by 3 to 5 times of one’s entire body weight! These alarming numbers can cause serious damage to your joints. Pain and inflammation during movement further encourages a sedentary lifestyle, which in turn increases a person’s weight.
Another factor that contributes to joint damage is the fat itself. Fat tissue releases various chemicals that can cause inflammation in the musculoskeletal system, which can lead to osteoarthritis and another form of arthritis called rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease. This inflammation destroys bone and cartilage.
When arthritis is severe, joint replacement surgery, where the damaged joints are replaced with plastic and metal implants to restore normal movement to the joints, may be necessary. Unfortunately, although the surgery has great success in healthy weight patients, the outcomes are not so favorable in overweight patients. Often, an orthopedist will recommend losing weight prior to surgery.
Weight loss can be achieved by cutting down on empty calories and eating healthy well-balanced meals. High impact exercises, such as jogging and aerobics, a great form of losing weight, can be strenuous on the joints and cause pain, but activities such as cycling, swimming and elliptic training provide the necessary protection needed to allow one to exercise without causing any harm to the joints. When these conservative methods do not help, various bariatric surgeries can help you lose a significant amount of weight.
You don’t have to lose massive amounts of weight to see results, as pain relief may be achieved with even a few pounds lost. It doesn’t reverse the damage already done by arthritis, but along with pain relief, weight loss slows down the progression of the disease.