If you're carrying too much weight on your body, your knees are taking a big hit, literally. As shock absorbers for our bodies, the cartilage between our knee and thighbone takes on a lot more force when we are overweight. That additional force causes it to wear more quickly.
“Many patients come through our door with pain associated with their excessive weight,” explains Dr. Richard Hayes of Great Basin Orthopaedics. “Often that is our first interaction with the patient and by then damage has been done.”
In a British study, overweight women were three times more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis than those at a healthy weight. Carrying extra body fat may also lead to the releases of a hormone called leptin that some experts think may play a role in the development of osteoarthritis.
“Even when surgery can repair knee damage associated with excessive weight, the underlying problem needs to be addressed for long-term results,” says Dr. Hayes. “A sensible weight loss regime has to be part of the treatment plan.”
Studies of overweight and obese people with knee osteoarthritis indicate that those who lost weight with diet and exercise reduced their knee pain by about half. Getting to a healthy weight is certainly a good place to start when addressing knee pain.
The National Institutes of Health recommends the following steps for exercising safely with knee pain.
Get a consultation. Talk to your doctor if you have any chronic health problems or you're worried that exercise might cause an injury. If you already have knee pain, discuss types of activities with your doctor that might be safe for you.
Exercise. Good types of exercises for heavier people include walking — even for just a few minutes when you're starting out — bicycling indoors or outside, and strength training to build stronger muscles.
Be more active. Simply work more physical activity into your daily routine. Walk around while you're talking on the phone (after all, that's why they're cordless!), play actively with your kids or grandkids, and make personal visits at work instead of using e-mail.
Everyday Health website, Obesity and Knee Pain, By Eric Metcalf, MPH. Retrieved March 6, 2-13, http://www.everydayhealth.com/knee-pain/obesity-and-knee-pain.aspx