How Your Weight Affects Your Joints

Did you know that every five pounds of extra body weight increases the pressure on your joints by 25 pounds? Many of our patients at Pennsylvania Orthopedic Associates come in for help with knee pain, and that isn’t the only joint affected when you’re overweight. Excess weight also strains your hips, ankles, and other weight-bearing joints. 

What it means to be a weight-bearing joint

Some of the joints in your body are responsible for holding you up and supporting movement when you stand, walk, run, and jump. These joints carry your full body weight, making them your aptly named weight-bearing joints. The more body weight these joints are forced to carry, the more likely they are to become damaged or suffer an injury.

The primary weight-bearing joints are your knees, ankles, and hips. The joints in your lower spine, pelvis, and feet also bear weight, but they don’t endure as much stress.

Joint cartilage suffers from excess weight

The part of each joint that’s most affected by excess body weight is articular cartilage. Articular cartilage is a firm, rubbery tissue that covers the ends of the bones inside the joint, creating a smooth surface that allows the bones to move without friction or rubbing bone against bone.

Articular cartilage has another essential job: It absorbs shock and passes the pressure on to the bone. This ability to transfer pressure allows the structures within the joint to share the weight of your body, preventing one part from sustaining more force than it can tolerate.

Since articular cartilage bears the burden of your body weight, it’s easily damaged by overweight and obesity. The cartilage inside your joints, especially your knees, is already prone to breaking down because of overuse, injury, or daily wear-and-tear over the years.

Any existing cartilage degeneration starts to break down more quickly as you gain weight. The overall result is this: Your risk of developing knee osteoarthritis is at least four to five times higher when you’re overweight. 

Impact of body weight on your joints

It makes sense that gaining weight adds stress to your weight-bearing joints, but exactly how much difference does it make? When you walk, the pressure on your knees is three to six times more than your body weight. If you gain 10 pounds, your knees support an additional 30-60 pounds of pressure every time you take a step.

Though being overweight can lead to tissue degeneration, you can significantly lower your chance of knee osteoarthritis by losing weight. Studies show that women who lost 11 pounds cut their risk of knee osteoarthritis in half.

Body weight affects joint inflammation

Fat cells release substances that promote body-wide inflammation. If you’re overweight, you’ll have more of those unwanted chemicals circulating through your body. The inflammation triggered by fat cells aggravates the joint inflammation already caused by rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

People who are overweight or obese and who also have rheumatoid arthritis experience more joint pain than patients with a normal weight. However, weight loss can lower inflammation, improve joint function, and help reduce your joint pain.

If you’re overweight and you struggle with knee pain, or pain in any of your weight-bearing joints, we can treat the problem in your joint and relieve your pain, while also recommending gentle exercises that will help you lose weight without further aggravating your joints. 

To get started on the road to joint health, call Pennsylvania Orthopedic Associates, or schedule an appointment online.

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