How Obesity is Linked To Arthritis
Does obesity cause osteoarthritis?
Obesity does not directly cause osteoarthritis, but it does contribute to it. Obesity dramatically increases the amount of stress that the weight-bearing joints must carry. Consider that when walking, your knees and hips experience up to three times as much load as your body weight with each step. When walking down a flight of stairs, your hips and knees experience as much as a six-fold load increase. Now consider that if you weigh 140 pounds, your hips and knees are experiencing approximately 640 pounds of pressure while walking down the stairs! That's a lot of weight. It also means that for every pound you gain, your hips and knees are punished six fold!
Research reveals that overweight women are four times more likely to develop arthritis and overweight men are five times more likely to develop arthritis as their non-overweight counterparts. For every 10 pounds of excess weight, the risk of developing arthritis increases by 40 percent.
How does increased weight damage the joints?
When you stand on your feet, gravity is pulling your body with a force driving you into the ground. What stops you from falling is a combination of your muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. Your muscles contract to keep you standing, walking and climbing stairs. However, as your body weight increases, the chronic load on your muscles likewise increases. Over time, these increased forces take their toll. The muscles become unable to completely shield your joints from the increased load. As the muscles fatigue, the load that should ideally be carried by those muscles, ligaments, and tendons, is slowly taken up by the more static structures inside your joints -- the bones and cartilage. This increased pressure on the joints leads to a slow wearing down of the cartilage inside the joints.
By keeping the muscles strong and balanced, and maintaining an ideal body weight, the joints do not experience these increased stresses across them. If you are overweight now, the good news is that as you start taking off the weight, your joints immediately start to thank you! Just as gaining an extra pound increases the load of your joints six-fold, losing an extra pound decreases the load of your joints six-fold. Of course, this is not a fix for joint osteoarthritis, but it certainly helps if an overweight person can, under the direction of a doctor, obtain a more ideal body weight. In fact, women who lose as little as 11 pounds reduce their risk of developing arthritis of the knee by more than 50 percent!
In addition to the clear mechanical reasons for obesity causing increased stress across the joints, there appears to also be a hormonal reason for obesity increasing the risk of osteoarthritis (though this link seems to be weaker). It turns out that people who are obese also have an increased risk of hand osteoarthritis. Since the hand is not a weight-bearing structure, researchers have turned to another potential explanation. People who are obese have increased levels of estrogen. Researches have theorized that this as well as other hormonal imbalances may contribute to this increased risk of hand osteoarthritis.
There are a whole host of reasons to obtain and maintain an ideal body weight. Reducing the risk of osteoarthritis is one of those reasons. In addition, if you already have pain from osteoarthritis, reducing your body weight to a more ideal weight will usually help the symptoms. Of course, always check with your doctor to discuss a safe way to lose the weight and keep it off. In addition to losing weight if you are overweight, it is important to stretch and strengthen the muscles around your joints.
Fortunately, the same exercises that stretch and strengthen the muscles around the joints also help people to lose weight. Not only that, but eating an anti-inflammatory diet not only helps your joints, but also helps people to lose excess weight.
If you are overweight, you can lose the weight. Talk to your doctor about various strategies you can employ. My general advice is to steer clear of fad diets and instead adopt healthy lifestyle changes that you will keep for the long-term. Please see my blog about how to make lifestyle changes that stick. I wish you the best of health, because with good health all things are possible. I hope you have found this blog helpful.