Obesity is a major risk factor for the development of degenerative joint disease of the knee, a potentially major source of chronic pain. And many obese people try to lose weight through aerobic exercise, which often involves running or walking; so are these overweight people actually doing damage to themselves during their exercise sessions?
A study published in the February, 2007 issue of “Arthritis Care and Research” examined the effects of physical activity over time in older adults—many of whom were obese—and found that perhaps all the worry about exercise and knee arthritis is not justified.
Subjects in the study were followed with knee x-rays and questionnaires. Analysis of the data showed no relationship between walking or jogging and the development of degenerative joint disease of the knee. Importantly, the obese patients did not have their risk of knee arthritis increased by engaging in physical activity.
Unfortunately, exercise did not prevent the development of degenerative joint disease of the knee in the middle-aged and older adults who participated in this study. Still, the study did show that physical activity can be part of one’s life, without the fear that degenerative arthritis of the knee will develop as a result.
In that same issue of “Arthritis Care and Research,” there was a summary and analysis published of studies looking into the factors affecting the progression of degenerative joint disease of the knee. These researchers found several studies which also did not show that exercise caused progression of degenerative knee arthritis.
Not surprisingly, the presence of degenerative joint disease in other joints in a particular patient is predictive of worsening knee arthritis.
By way of conclusion, I would suggest to patients who have no other contraindication to exercise; these just-published studies support recommending regular moderate exercise to patients, without the fear that such physical activity will increase the risk for degenerative joint disease of the knee.
As the population ages, there will be higher incidences of illnesses (such as diabetes and heart disease) which can benefit from increased physical activity. It is assuring to know that physical activity performed to fight off these maladies is apparently not creating other illnesses, at least not degenerative joint disease of the knee.