How Obesity Affects Your Bones and Joints
Obesity impacts your musculoskeletal system
Obesity is defined as having a body mass index of 30 or more. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975.
Most people know that obesity increases the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and sleep apnoea. What they don’t always consider is the impact this increased weight is having on their musculoskeletal system including their bones, joints and muscles.
Additional weight puts more pressure on your joints
In simple terms your body can’t handle more weight than it is meant to. Additional weight puts pressure on your body’s weight bearing joints such as your knees, hips and back and will accelerate the wear and tear on your joints and spine.
Biomechanically, every pound of extra weight puts an extra three to four pounds of pressure on each knee joint when walking and this increases with some other activities such as climbing stairs.
Obesity is the leading preventable cause of wear and tear arthritis, known as osteoarthritis.
More fat cells damage your joints too
In addition to the excess weight, recent research has uncovered that obese people have more fat cells, known as adipocytes, that release inflammation-producing compounds and break down joint tissue in the body and cause irreversible damage.
Joint problems caused by obesity
Extra pounds can lead to many problems in your bones and joints, including arthritis, tendonitis, and bursitis.
Weight can cause the cartilage on the end of your bones to become damaged or worn and this can lead to pain, stiffness and sometimes swelling in your joint.
Excess weight can also put pressure on the connecting tissues around your joints, such as your tendons, and they may become inflamed making your joint very painful, a condition known as tendonitis.
A fluid filled sack near your joint, called a bursa, can become irritated under extra weight and this may cause pain, swelling and redness, known as bursitis.
Knee replacements on the increase
It follows that with the increase in obesity so has there been a rise in hip and knee arthritis, back pain and the need for hip and knee replacements and spinal surgery. Knee osteoarthritis and knee replacement surgery has seen the greatest growth.
Obesity increases complications in joint replacement surgery
Some studies have found a higher chance of surgical site infection, blood clots, and nerve injury postoperatively in obese patients, and that obese hip replacement patients were more likely to have a dislocation following surgery.
Obese patients require a longer period of anaesthesia and recovery may also take longer.
On the bright side, most studies have found similar pain relief and benefits of joint replacement surgery in obese patients compared to those of a healthy weight.
How to beat obesity and reduce your risk of joint problems
In the same way that a rise in weight increases the pressure on your joints, a reduction in weight leads to reduced wear and tear of your joints.
If you are obese and you want to reduce your risk of joint issues then you will need to lower your weight by adopting lifelong healthy lifestyle changes. These include:
You can lose weight by eating fewer calories than you burn each day and by maintaining a balanced diet.
Make sure you’ve plenty of fruit and vegetables at hand so that if hunger strikes you can easily grab a piece. Swap junk food, processed foods and takeaways for healthier options.
Avoid alcoholic, sugar laden, and fizzy drinks. Aim to drink water instead
To reduce your weight, you’ll need to keep active. You should try to make exercise part of your daily routine.
Physical activity may be difficult if you are obese or you have joint problems so you’ll be best to focus on low-impact activities, such as walking, cycling, swimming, and aerobics that don’t place too much demand on your joints. They will raise your heart rate and boost your cardiovascular fitness whilst also helping you burn some calories.