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Weight loss

Losing weight can reduce osteoarthritis pain and increase joint mobility.

A photo of two feet on a blue digital scale. In between the feet on the scale is a red apple and yellow measuring tape.

Overweight, obesity, and osteoarthritis

More than 1.9 billion adults over the age of 18 are overweight. A BMI (body mass index) of over 25 is deemed overweight and a BMI of over 30 indicates obesity. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for osteoarthritis (OA). The prevalence of overweight and obesity is steadily increasing worldwide and thus an increasing prevalence of OA is also expected. Overweight and obesity are widely spread medical problems that also increase the risk of developing other serious health problems, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, depression, and stroke.

Most people with OA are overweight

About 75% of those diagnosed with OA of the knee in Sweden are overweight. This may sound like a lot, but it isn’t that surprising considering that the pressure on our knees and hips is 1,5 times our body weight when we walk. This means that a person who weighs 100 kg, puts 150 kg of pressure on their weight-bearing joints with each step they take. An overweight person is about 8 times more likely to develop knee OA than a normal-weight person and about three times more likely to develop hip OA. It has also been noted that OA of the fingers is slightly more common in overweight people. Fat secretes inflammation-related proteins that may lead to joint pain and inflammation, elevating the risk of developing symptomatic OA in non-weight-bearing joints.

It is good to maintain a healthy weight throughout life to lower the risk of developing joint problems. When your body weighs more than your muscles can carry, you being to overload your weight-bearing joints.

Overweight people are more likely to undergo surgery

Being overweight or obese also increases the need for joint replacement surgery. Most hip and knee replacement surgeries are performed on overweight or obese OA patients. Overweight patients are on average 10 years younger than normal-weight patients once the disease has progressed to the stage of needing surgery. When considering whether to get surgery, keep in mind that no surgery is risk-free and that overweight and obese people are at increased risk of developing infections and blood clots.

Losing weight gradually

Losing weight to reduce your risk of developing OA in the future may not be the first thing on your mind. However, maintaining a healthy weight is not only important for joint health, but for overall physical health. Losing weight may also make it easier to exercise, which has positive effects on both physical and mental health.

Losing 10% of your body weight can significantly minimize OA pain but losing even just a few kilos can make a difference on your joints. It is therefore worth reviewing your diet and level of physical activity if you are experiencing OA symptoms and are slightly overweight.

Gradually losing weight with the help of nutritious foods and exercise is what is recommended for sustainable and healthy weight loss. Choosing to go on a specific diet for fast results doesn’t tend to hold, as rapid weight loss is often followed by rapid weight gain. Losing weight and maintaining it is thus not a "quick fix” but requires patience and long-term lifestyle changes. A slow weight loss of 0.5–1 kg per week is recommended to keep the weight off.

Exercising is especially important for overweight people. Exercise strengthens the muscles around the joints, which makes it easier for the joints to carry the weight of the body. Exercise is also helpful for weight loss as it burns calories.

Tips for sustainable weight loss

Discuss a diet and exercise plan with a dietitian, physiotherapist or doctor

Eat foods high in fiber, such as vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts

Replace white bread, pasta and rice with whole grain products

Avoid foods and drinks high in sugar

Be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day (walking or cycling is a great start)

Get help from a physiotherapist or personal trainer to find which type of exercise suits you best