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Why Weight Matters When it Comes to Joint Pain

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If you experience occasional joint pain when you engage in activities such as walking or climbing stairs, or if you are concerned about developing arthritis due to a family history of the condition, taking steps to manage your weight can help reduce your risk.

Carrying excess weight increases the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis, the most common joint disorder resulting from wear and tear on a joint. There are two main ways that being overweight raises this risk. First, excess weight puts more stress on weight-bearing joints, such as the knee. Second, inflammatory factors associated with weight gain can contribute to joint problems in other areas, such as the hands.

To better understand the impact of weight on knee joints, consider that when walking on level ground, the force on your knees is equivalent to 1.5 times your body weight. For a 200-pound man, this means his knees experience 300 pounds of pressure with each step. When you add an incline, such as when going up or down stairs or squatting to tie your shoes, the pressure increases to two to three times your body weight or four to five times your body weight, respectively.

Losing even a small amount of weight can significantly reduce the pressure on your joints and protect them from damage. Studies have shown that maintaining a weight loss of 10 to 15 pounds in obese young individuals can lead to a much lower risk of developing osteoarthritis in the future.

While increasing physical activity offers many health benefits and can aid in weight loss, exercise alone may not be sufficient to achieve significant weight loss. To lose half a pound to one pound per week, which is a safe and sustainable rate, you need to create a calorie deficit of 250 to 500 calories per day. You can do this by burning 125 calories through exercise and reducing your daily calorie intake by 125 calories.

It is important to remember that the math works both ways, meaning consuming an additional 100 calories per day without burning them off can lead to a weight gain of 10 pounds over the course of a year. Over time, indulging in routine treats such as ice cream, high-calorie coffee drinks, or snacks from the candy jar can tip the scales in the wrong direction.

Caroline Buckee

Caroline Flannigan is an epidemiologist. She is an Associate Professor of Epidemiology and is the Associate Director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.

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