At their first monthly follow-up visit with me, patients often remark on how much better their knees feel. Even though some of these folks lost 10 or more pounds in this first month, their reports of “less pain when I climb the stairs,” or “I can walk the block again without my cane,” seemed like optimistic exaggerations when I started out practicing bariatric (weight loss) medicine. However, based on work done by the Arthritis Foundation, it makes perfect sense. Regardless of how much you weigh, you too can relieve joint pains with small amounts of weight loss.
Arthritis & Obesity:
I’ve mentioned before that 2 out of 3 American adults are overweight and that half of those adults are considered obese. The overlap between obesity and arthritis pain is obvious if you consider that 1 in 5 adults have arthritis, but 3 in 5 obese adults have arthritis.
Arthritis: The Definition
Arthritis is a result of the inflammation in the joints that can be quite debilitating. It is a very common disease that causes joint pain and is the leading cause of disability in the United States. If you have arthritis, you will most likely experience joint pain, swelling, and stiffness and a limited range of motion.
Types of Arthritis
The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA). In this type of arthritis, the joints hurt because the tough tissue that covers the bones, called cartilage, is worn out. The sensitive outer layers of the bones start to rub against each other causing a great deal of pain. Because of the way we move, using our knees and hips as levers, 1 pound of weight on the body actually causes 4 pounds of pressure on the knees.
Consider the patients I mentioned at the start of this blog. When they lost only 10 pounds, it felt like a 40-pound weight loss on their knees. No wonder they felt better!
Even if you don’t have arthritis, try carrying a 20-40 pound bag of dog food the next time you’re in the grocery store. Pay attention to the pressure you feel in your knees and hips. It’ll give you a whole new appreciation for how hard these joints have to work for you every step of the day.
Rheumatoid & Psoriatic Arthritis:
In addition to OA, there are other forms of arthritis. Some of the more common ones are rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis.
In patients with rheumatoid arthritis, the body mistakenly attacks healthy joints causing the membrane that encloses the joints to become inflamed. The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown however it is believed that RA is a combined result of genetic predispositions, your immune system, and other environmental factors.
Similarly, psoriatic arthritis is a form of auto-immune disease where the body attacks itself. Typically people with this type of arthritis will initially experience psoriasis — a condition that causes the skin to become covered in red, itchy dry patches.
Patients with these either rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis will also feel better as they lose weight. Sure the “1 pound of weight loss equals 4 pounds at the knees,” is still true, but there’s more. As patients lose weight, there are less inflammatory chemicals called cytokines released by their fat cells. This decrease in inflammation adds to their pain relief.
This double whammy of less joint stress and lower inflammation helps with other types of joint pains too. The frequency of gout attacks and their intensity is less with lower weights. Likewise, patients with fibromyalgia, lupus, and other diseases causing joint pain feel improvement with relatively small amounts of weight loss.
The more you lose, the better your joints will feel.
Whether you want to walk with your grandchildren through Disney World or just walk to your car with less pain, come see us at Live Healthy MD and let’s talk about how your weight is worsening all your medical conditions and start fixing the problem together.
There is no surefire way to get rid of arthritis, however there are methods to delay the onset or even prevent arthritis before it occurs.
If you currently have healthy joints, be sure to exercise them as much as you can to maintain functionality and mobility. Similarly, as mentioned above, I recommend losing weight and eating a healthy diet to not only delay the onset the arthritis but to also relieve the intensity of the joint pain.