Your joints are a support system for the body—they connect your bones and allow you to move. Because joints play such a vital role for your body, when they begin to ache, the pain can have a big impact on your life. One thing to consider when looking for relief: body weight.
It’s not clear whether obesity causes arthritis or just makes arthritis worse—the data that has resulted from research thus far is mixed. One thing that is clear is that excess weight can worsen pan, says Dr. Michael Welker, medical director of the Kettering Health Orthopedics
“It’s safe to say that being overweight makes sore joints sorer,” Dr. Welker says. “If you have arthritis and start to lose your cartilage, which is a shock absorber, your joints experience more force than they normally would.”
That force on your cartilage increases as your body weight increases, which causes pain to worsen. One strategy for earing the pain on your joints may be to lose weight.
Drop pounds—and pain
Those whose joint pain may be due to extra weight may feel eager to shed the extra pounds, but it’s important to be patient and lose weight in a healthy way. Laura Vikmanis, RDN, LD, registered dietitian with Kettering Weight Loss Solutions, says the first step is to eat protein-rich foods at regular intervals.
“The simplest thing is to make sure that you’re not going longer than four hours without eating something that has protein in it, like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, chicken or poultry, or other low-fat meats,” she says.
This strategy will help you avoid getting overly hungry, which can lead to overeating and craving high-calorie or high-sugar foods. Focus on getting your protein and fill in the rest of your diet with vegetables to ensure you get vitamins, minerals, and most importantly fiber, which will keep you feeling full longer.
Laura says to stick to these guidelines instead of following fad diets that focus on counting calories and don’t consider the kind of food you’re eating.
“People become so focused on calories that they restrict too much, which leads to binging and overeating,” Laura says. “Think of it as a lifestyle change versus being on a trendy on-and-off diet. Extreme fluctuations in your routine cause extreme fluctuations in your weight.”
If you are modifying your diet in a healthy way, Laura says you should be losing about one to two pounds per week.
Is joint surgery right for you?
Dr. Welker sees many patients who grow frustrated because they feel they will be turned down for joint replacement if they have too much excess weight.
“What I tell my patients is not, ‘No,’ but rather, ‘Yes, when…’” Dr. Welker says. “It gives them a door to walk through.”
Dr. Welker encourages patients to lose weight before classifying them as candidates for joint surgery because it’s the safest option.
“When you are obese, your risk of infection doubles,” Dr. Welker says. “When you are obese, have diabetes, and you smoke, that risk increases 10 times. It’s our job to help you have the best possible outcome.”
While you work toward changing your eating habits to lose weight, Dr. Welker suggests strengthening your legs to find relief for your joint pain.
“The biggest thing you can do outside of losing weight is to make sure the muscles around the joint are strong to help keep it stable,” Dr. Welker says.
If the pain persists, your doctor may also suggest certain medications, injections, or braces.
Solutions for pain and gain
If you are struggling with joint pain and would like to talk about your options, request an appointment with one of our physicians.