Can Dropping Weight Save Your Knees?

Author: Courney Erickson-Adams, MD

’Tis the season for holiday cheer—and lots of calories, too. Once the overindulgence is over, New Year’s resolutions to lose weight may be next. For those with knee pain and concerns about osteoarthritis, these dynamics can take a toll. This is especially true if being overweight is already an issue. The good news is that research indicates that dropping even a little weight can help save your knees—which is important to remember during this time of holiday feasts.

The Impact of Extra Weight 

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a condition that develops as a result of wear and tear on a joint. Being overweight can be a contributing factor to developing OA, since it stresses the weight-bearing joints—including the knees. These joints absorb a lot of pressure during various activities. For instance, the knees absorb up to:

  • 1.5 times a person’s body weight when walking on level ground. 
  • 2-3 times a person’s body weight when walking up and down stairs.
  • 4-5 times a person’s body weight when squatting.

What the Research Shows

According to Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, overweight women are four times more likely to develop OA than healthy-weight women, and overweight men are five times more likely to develop OA than men who maintain a healthy weight. 

The good news is that losing even a little weight can help. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that “For every pound lost, there is a 4 pound reduction in the load exerted on the knee. That means that a modest weight loss (5% or 12 pounds for a 250 pound person) can help reduce pain and disability.”

Numbers like those can add up to great results. Johns Hopkins cites research indicating that for overweight women, every 11 pounds of weight loss can decrease the risk of OA in the knee by more than 50 percent. For men, those who move from being obese to being overweight—or from being overweight to being of a normal weight—can reduce their knee OA risk by 21.5 percent. 

More recent research supports these trends. According to the Arthritis Foundation, a 2017 study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) found that losing extra pounds may help preserve knee cartilage in those who are at risk of developing knee OA. They also found that weight loss can help to protect the menisci, which are the crescent-shaped cartilage pads that provide cushioning for the knee joint. 

Tips for Healthy Weight Loss

If you struggle with your weight, losing those extra pounds doesn’t have to be as difficult as it may seem. Keeping the following tips in mind may help:

  • Start by understanding what defines a healthy weight—which is usually according to a body mass index (BMI)—and where you fall within that range. 
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about your findings, and to determine the best approach to weight loss for your situation.
  • Remember that motion is lotion to support joint health, so determine what type of exercise will work best for you. Exercises that are good for the joints include those which don’t include pounding—such as walking, cycling, swimming, and yoga. You should talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise.

If you are experiencing knee pain of any kind, our team of experts is uniquely equipped to provide the evaluation and treatment you need.  Contact us today.