Osteoarthristis is one of the negative health effects of obesity

Published 9:32 am Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dr. Wesley Saher

The country’s obesity epidemic has given way to major health problems: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and several types of cancer to name a few.

In addition to these devastating health effects, being overweight can wreak havoc on the joints. Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, affects 27 million people in the United States, and is a leading cause of disability among adults. Unfortunately, those numbers are increasing in direct correlation with the obesity epidemic.

Once associated primarily with the elderly, joint problems are being diagnosed more and more among adults in their 20s and early 30s. Between 1971 and 2002, the number of cases of obesity-related arthritis increased six-fold — from 3 percent to 18 percent of the population, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Today, 31 percent of obese adults suffer from osteoarthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. An obese individual has a 60 percent greater chance of developing osteoarthritis than a person who maintains a healthy body weight.

Osteoarthritis affects primarily the weight-bearing joints — the knees, hips, spine and feet. Excess weight can strain and damage the joints, causing pain and stiffness.

Health experts estimate that for every 10 pounds of excess body weight, the force of impact on the hips and knees increases 30 to 60 pounds with each step. In the long run, being overweight or obese can lead to breakdown of the cartilage in the joints that provides cushioning and support and promotes smooth movement. In fact, an AAOS study of factors contributing to knee and hip replacement surgery among people ages 18 to50 found that 72 percent of patients were obese.


The most common symptom of osteoarthritis is pain in the affected joint with repetitive use during exercise, going up stairs, or simply bending or moving the joint. Other symptoms include swelling, warmth and creaking of the affected joints.

Pain and stiffness can also occur after sitting still for a long time. In severe cases, the complete loss of the cartilage and resulting friction between bones causes pain even with limited movement or during periods of rest.


Although osteoarthritis cannot be cured, early diagnosis and treatment can slow its progression, relieve pain and restore function. A healthy diet, regular exercise and over-the-counter medication, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, can help with joint pain and mobility. Research has found that weight loss of just 11 pounds can reduce the risk of knee osteoarthritis by 50 percent.

People of normal weight with healthy joints should engage in bone and muscle-strengthening exercises such as walking, running or jogging; aerobic exercise; weight machines or weight-lifting.

For overweight individuals, however, the pain of osteoarthritis can be a vicious cycle; physical activity is needed, but joint pain can limit the ability to exercise. Low-impact activities such as swimming, yoga or walking are good choices for people with pain or mobility problems. For severe joint pain or problems, surgery may improve joint function and relieve pain.

Talk with your doctor about ways to prevent or control your risk of osteoarthritis. If you are overweight or experiencing joint pain, your doctor may refer you to an orthopedic specialist or include other professionals in your treatment, such as a physical therapist or a nutritionist.

Learn more at www.smhfranklin.com by clicking on “Health Resources” and “Interactive Tools,” then test your knowledge with the Osteoarthritis, Arthritis, Knee Care, Spine Health, Senior Fitness or Diet Quiz.

Dr. Wesley Saher is a board-certified family practitioner with Total Family Care in Franklin and can be reached at 562-4111.