Features January, 2012 Issue

Even Moderate Weight Loss Can Reduce Knee OA Symptoms

The results of hundreds of clinical studies over a long period of time can produce confusing results and conflicting recommendations. Even the seemingly healthy practice of taking a daily multivitamin was questioned in a recent online edition of the prestigious Archives of Internal Medicine.

However, there is one area of medical research that has produced consistent findings for at least the past 20 years: Losing weight can lessen the force placed on the knee joints and reduce the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis.

The evidence started pouring in during the late 1980s and hasn’t stopped since. It comes from carefully controlled clinical studies and is affirmed by professionals (and their professional organizations) who deal with osteoarthritis every day.

“Estimates of the increased force on the knee with extra weight range from three to six pounds for each pound of body weight.” says Maribeth Gibbon, PT, a clinical specialist in the Department of Rehabilitation and Sports Therapy at Cleveland Clinic.

“For people losing 10 pounds, each knee would be subjected to 48,000 pounds less in compressive load per mile walked.” (Arthritis & Rheumatism, 2005)

A 15-pound weight loss reduced knee pain among patients with OA by 40 percent, reduced stiffness by 48 percent, and improved function by 50 percent. (American College of Rheumatology, 2006)

Weight loss is an excellent short-term investment for patients with a combination of knee OA and obesity. (Osteoarthritis & Cartilage, 2011)

“Every pound of extra weight you lose amounts to four pounds less pressure on each knee.” (Arthritis Foundation, 2011)

Simple weight loss can reduce stress on weight- bearing joints and result in reduced pain and increased function, particularly in walking. (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2011)

Dual Results
Gibbon, who works with arthritis patients at Cleveland Clinic, emphasizes a positive approach among those who might be overweight and/or do not get enough exercise. “Exercise, particularly walking, is both a means of losing weight and managing knee osteoarthritis. It is a way to achieve two goals at the same time.”

There are other advantages, even for people who are not obese. A slight weight loss might help arthritis patients feel better and give them a sense that they have more control over their lives. The association between mental and physical well-being has long been established.

The alternatives to weight loss as a means of managing knee pain are not attractive. Anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medications, and therapies that involve injections all have side effects, not to mention their cost.

The last resort—when all other conservative strategies have failed—is total knee replacement. This expensive, sometimes painful, and in some patients, risky procedure is being performed in record numbers in the U.S., often before less invasive methods have been tried.

Three Strategies
Losing weight can actually slow down the progress of knee osteoarthritis and extend the life expectancy of your knees. The best ways to lose weight have also been proven: 1) Eat less high-calorie, high-fat foods, and 2) Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, every day, by walking, cycling, swimming, gardening, or dancing.

The evidence is conclusive. All you have to do is use the information to make your knees feel and function better.