Can Losing Weight Help Arthritic Knees?
Yes, according to a growing body of research.
The latest investigation,1 from scientists at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, followed 240 overweight and obese individuals with painful knee osteoarthritis for 18 months.
The participants’ mean age was 66. In the study, they adopted a healthy lifestyle similar to the Pritikin Program. They ate a lot of whole foods, like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, that are naturally low in fat and calories. They also started exercising regularly, including both aerobic and strength training.
After 18 months, the 240 adults were divided into four groups based on the weight loss they had achieved:
- The top losers: 20% or more of total body weight lost
- Between 10 and 19.9% of body weight lost
- Between 5 and 9.9% of body weight lost
- Less than 5% of body weight lost
More Weight Lost, More Pain Lost
The researchers found that the greater the weight reductions in these overweight and obese adults, the better they fared. They were rewarded with:
- Less knee pain
- Better function in everyday activities
- Faster walking speed
- Better physical health-related quality of life
- Better mental health-related quality of life
- Less knee joint compression force
- Lower levels of inflammation (measured by Interleukin-6)
Previous studies of weight loss among individuals with osteoarthritis had involved a 5 to 10% reduction in body weight. It was not known if more weight reductions might provide additional benefits.
Weight Loss of 20% or Greater
Now, with this latest research, it’s clear that more is better. Summed up its lead author, Stephen Messier, PhD, in a Wake Forest University press statement2: “The importance of our study is that a weight loss of 20% or greater – double the previous standard – results in better clinical outcomes and is achievable without surgical or pharmacologic intervention.”
Researchers involved in bone health have expressed concerns that major weight loss in older adults might not be a good idea because it might result in major bone loss, or osteoporosis, and as a result, increased risk of fracture.
But in their study, Dr. Messier and co-authors found that none of the weight-loss groups, including the group that had lost 20% or more of body weight, reached the threshold level for pre-osteoporosis, known as osteopenia.
“We suggest that the significant reduction in pain, inflammation, and knee joint loads combined with significant improvements in function, mobility, and health-related quality of life outweighs the slight reduction in bone mineral density that accompanies a weight loss of 10% or 20% of baseline body weight,” they wrote.
What Is Osteoarthritis?
Put simply, osteoarthritis is wear and tear on the cartilage near the joints. A joint is where two bones connect. Cartilage is the elastic “gristle” that covers the ends of the bones. The whittling away of cartilage diminishes the ease with which bones glide over each other and absorb shocks.
If you have knee osteoporosis, simple everyday movements like walking or climbing stairs can hurt, often painfully so.
Diminished Quality of Life
More than 20 million people in the U.S. suffer from knee osteoarthritis. It is the most frequent cause of mobility dependency and diminished quality of life. Obesity is a major risk factor.
Traditional treatments for knee osteoarthritis have often been proven inadequate. Arthroscopic procedures, among the most widely-used treatments, have been known since 2002 to have outcomes that are no better than sham procedures.3
Medications may help, but often minimally so, and in only about half of patients with osteoarthritic knee pain.4 What’s more, long-term use of drugs like Advil, Motrin, Aleve, and Tylenol can have negative side effects like stomach, kidney, and liver problems.5
Natural Pain Relief
Because of all the above concerns, it makes sense to look for natural pain relief in the form of healthy lifestyle changes and weight loss,
Summing Up | Can Losing Weight Help Arthritic Knees?
A growing body of research is affirming that losing weight can be tremendously successful in helping relieve knee pain.
In fact, “losing weight may be the single most important thing you can do to prevent and control pain from osteoarthritic knees,” states Seth Marquit, MD, Medical Director at the Pritikin Longevity Center.
Healthy Weight Loss at Pritikin
Since 1975, the Pritikin Center has taught heart-healthy living and weight loss to 100,000-plus people worldwide. Results, documented in more than 100 studies in peer-reviewed journals, include major improvements in cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides, blood pressure, inflammatory markers, and weight reduction.
“A new lease on life”
“It’s never too late to start,” adds Dr. Marquit. “Many people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s come to Pritikin with knee pain. In just a couple of weeks, thanks to the weight they’ve lost as well as the personalized care of our experts in knee and joint pain, they leave us feeling much better, and with a lot less pain.
“They have a new lease of life.”
“Weight loss is the best prescription”
Agrees Dr. Messier of Wake Forest University: “By lowering your body weight, you can reduce the load on your knee and in turn reduce your pain.” For relief from osteoarthritic knee pain, “weight loss is the best prescription.”