Sometimes, sports or trauma make injuries to the knees unavoidable. However, many people can avoid knee pain and joint problems with simple lifestyle choices. One of the major risk factors for developing chronic pain from osteoarthritis and inflammation in the knee is excess weight.
Weight loss brings many health benefits for the entire body. You might sleep better and have more energy. You'll have an easier time being active, and you can avoid many chronic heart and lung problems. However, many people don't factor in the amazing improvements weight control provides for knee pain.
Why Extra Weight Is Hard on Knees
Every time you take a step, the leg you step onto must support the majority of your weight. Your legs also must provide stability. However, joints are relatively small in surface area, which means the amount of pressure from each step is actually much higher than just your body weight.
Your knees support a force of 1.5 times your body weight. This means that if you weigh 150 pounds, your single knee supports the equivalent of 215 pounds every time you take a step. The higher your weight, the greater the amount of pressure. Over time, this pressure can increase wear and tear in the tissues and cartilage that cushion your knee.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University also suggest that being overweight can affect the overall blood flow to your joints, including your knees. Blood delivers food and oxygen to cells, allowing them to remain healthy and repair themselves when they are injured. With restricted blood flow, you won't recover as quickly from stress to the joint.
In general, an overweight woman is four times more likely to develop painful osteoarthritis, and an overweight man is five times more likely.
How Weight Loss Helps Pain
Weight loss helps to prevent future knee problems, especially if you are still young. Even for people who already struggle with joint pain and knee injuries, losing weight can help with treatment success.
The main reason why losing weight helps is through how much pressure is taken off the joint with every pound you lose. To put the amazing effects of reduced weight into perspective, the reduced stress on the knee that comes with losing just one pound would be the equivalent of walking nearly 5000 miles on that knee!
Losing a sustained 11 pounds would reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis by half.
Many patients can become discouraged when their physician recommends weight loss as a way to help with knee and joint pain. Many feel like they would need to lose drastic amounts in order to make a difference. However, you will feel the difference with just a few pounds. Don't let large weight loss numbers or expectations scare you away from reaping the rewards.
Strategies for Safe Weight Loss
If you are committed to losing weight for pain management, you need to make sure you protect your knees as you increase you activity level. Increased activity will stress your knees, so you must be careful. Make sure you:
- Begin slowly. Use low-impact exercises for weight loss. Biking and swimming can be excellent calorie burners.
- Speak with your doctor. Have a pain specialist check your condition before you begin. They might recommend diet-only weight loss until you are safe to add more activity.
- Rest. After activity, you need to give your knees time to recover. If you start running, lifting weights, or doing other load-bearing exercises, plan rest days in between.
- Listen to your body. If you notice any knee pain at all when exercising, stop the exercise and rest.
- Continue with pain management. You may need steroid shots and pain medications to manage as you increase activity. Always follow the regimen your doctor recommends.
Becoming more active is often an essential part of sustained weight loss, but you need to stay safe and protect your knees in the process.
For more information on managing your pain, contact us at Pain Care Management, LLC.