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How Body Weight Affects Osteoarthritis

Medical professionals have known for years that excess body weight can negatively affect your health. According to the CDC, people with obesity are at an increased risk for serious diseases and health conditions. This includes cancer, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, mental illness, and osteoarthritis.

We want to help you understand the following aspects of the relationship between body weight and osteoarthritis:

  • How your weight increases your risk
  • How to know if you have obesity
  • How weight management can help your osteoarthritis

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis, affecting more than 32 million adults in the U.S. It occurs when the smooth joint cartilage connecting our bones begins to break down and erode. Overtime, injuries combined with everyday use can leave the joint with no protective cushion, causing pain, stiffness and inflammation.

Informally referred to as the “wear and tear” disease, osteoarthritis most commonly affects the joints that carry the majority of our weight when we stand, including the ankles, hips and knees. However, OA can also occur in lesser weight-bearing areas, such as the feet, lower back and pelvis. It can even occur in non-weight-bearing joints like your fingers, elbows and wrist.

Obesity Can Increase Your Risk of Osteoarthritis

People with obesity are at an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis because of the increased weight being supported by their joints. In fact, being 10 pounds overweight can add an extra 15 to 30 pounds of pressure on just your knee joints, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Moreover, once you are diagnosed with osteoarthritis, excess weight can accelerate the progression of cartilage erosion and increase the need for a knee or hip replacement. Excess weight can also cause more pain than in osteoarthritis patients who weigh less.

How to Know if You’re Overweight or Obese

Defining what classifies as “overweight” isn’t as clear-cut as you might think. If you are worried about your weight, talk to your doctor about your concerns and the increased risk for health conditions like osteoarthritis.

You could use online resources like the CDC’s BMI calculator, but those can be misleading without other assessments. Specifically, muscle is denser than fat, and BMI cannot measure the amount of excess fat in the body. It can only suggest your weight status based upon your height and weight.

The best way to determine if you are overweight or obese is to consult your doctor. They can best determine your weight status and suggest a treatment plan based on your unique health situation and conditions.

How to Reduce Your Risk for OA with Healthy Weight Management

While you can certainly seek out solutions to your weight status from doctors and with medication, you have other options. Losing weight has a lot to do with diet and exercise, and both are non-medical ways to address excess fat. But before changing your diet and exercise regimen, you should always consult your doctor or arthritis specialist to ensure the changes you make are actually beneficial.

Consider the Arthritis-Friendly Mediterranean Diet

The first step in healthy weight management is to make better decisions about what you eat. Exercising while making bad dietary choices won’t get you to where you want to go. In order to effectively lose weight, you must eat better foods for your body in conjunction with regular, low-impact exercises.

Conveniently, we have an entire article on the arthritis-friendly Mediterranean diet, a way of eating based on the customs of Italy and Greece in the 1960s. However, it isn’t really a “diet” in the traditional sense. The Mediterranean diet still allows you to enjoy the foods you love. Fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, cheese, eggs, chicken, and yes — red wine — are all part of the Mediterranean lifestyle.

The key, however, lies in the proportions of what you consume. The Mediterranean Diet places great emphasis on eating more fruits, vegetables, and fatty fish, while significantly reducing your intake of red meats, desserts, and fried goods.

If you’re considering a diet change, you should investigate the Mediterranean diet, especially if you want to ease your arthritis pain.

Choose Exercises that are Easy on Your Joints

Even if you don’t have arthritis, low-impact exercises offer your body a hearty workout without sacrificing your joint health. Now, what do we mean by “low impact?” These exercises get your body moving without adding stress to your joints like high-impact exercises like running and jumping. A few of our favorite low-impact options include:

  • Swimming
  • Water aerobics
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Walking
  • Elliptical
  • Bicycling
  • Stretching
  • Resistance training
  • Pilates

To learn more about low-impact exercises, visit our article, “What Exercises Can I Do to Help My Arthritis?

What if I Already Have Osteoarthritis?

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for osteoarthritis. However, you can treat OA’s symptoms with various medical and non-medical methods. When it comes to easing any arthritis pain you feel in your joints, keep two primary goals in mind:

  1. Stay ahead of your pain; and
  2. Reduce inflammation.

Maintaining a healthy weight falls under both of those goals as a non-medical treatment, meaning it does not require medication to achieve. Medical treatment options that can help reduce your pain include injections and medications (both prescription and over-the-counter). Arthritis Relief Centers offers several different injections and other treatments from hyaluronic acid to corticosteroids that can help ease arthritis pain.

For even more information on how to ease your arthritis pain, visit our article, “How Do I Ease My Arthritis Pain?

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Older man relaxes in a hammockX-ray of an arthritic hip joint