Joint pain is one of the most common types of chronic pain. Many people experience aching joints, especially in the knees or hips, and assume it’s a natural part of aging.
But there may be an underlying cause — your weight.
Think of your body like a car. Over time, the tires on your car wear down from carrying the full weight of your vehicle. Bigger, heavier vehicles require bigger, sturdier tires.
Your joints are just like tires — you use them all the time and they are constantly carrying the weight of your body, like the tires carry the weight of your car. And just like the tires, they feel the burden of any extra weight you carry.
But unlike with a car, buying bigger joints to carry that extra weight isn’t an option.
The link between weight and joint pain
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 70 percent of American adults are overweight or obese. This extra weight can put a burden on your joints, causing you to experience pain or inflammation. Being overweight affects the main weight-bearing joints, the hips and the knees, in two different ways.
First, the extra weight increases the joint reaction force within the joint. Over time, this extra joint reaction force, or pressure, causes increased wear and tear on the joint. The damage to the cartilage results in eventual arthritic changes on the joint and can cause you to experience decreased range of motion, stiffness, pain, swelling or warmth. If the damage causes severe pain, it can result in the need for medical attention.
Weight gain also results in increased inflammatory factors. Many inflammatory diseases and conditions that have been linked to being overweight or obese, including digestive disorders, autoimmune disorders, neurological issues, etc. Similarly. the inflammatory enzymes and factors in the body can cause your joints and the surrounding tissues to be painful.
Think about this, too — when you go up or down a set of stairs, it adds two to three times your body weight across your knee joints. That means someone who is 100 pounds overweight is actually adding 150 pounds of extra force across the joint than they would if they were a normal weight.
How to lessen the burden
However, losing even a small amount of weight can make a big difference when it comes to joint pain and inflammation.
A study published in Arthritis & Rheumatism found that just one pound of weight loss resulted in four pounds of pressure being removed from the knee. Similarly, other studies have concluded that a pound of weight loss can remove six pounds of pressure off the hips. A 2010 study indicated that weight loss can lessen inflammation of the joints.
So if you’re experiencing joint pain, don’t just assume it’s because of your age — it could actually be your weight. Talk to your doctor about building a weight loss plan to help you accomplish your goals, or download the treatment guide for joint pain.
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About the author
Khalid Yousuf, MD, MS, is an orthopedic surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Plano. He focuses on hip and knee replacements. He utilizes surgical and technological advancements to offer his patients relief from joint pain, including partial knee replacements and anterior hip approach. He received advanced training in joint replacement surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Dr. Yousuf attended medical school at Louisiana State University in New Orleans and completed his orthopedic residency at the University of Oklahoma. In his free time, Dr. Yousuf enjoys spending time with his wife and three daughters. They love cooking, traveling and swimming together.