Is my weight causing me joint pains?

Being overweight and obese are known to pose significant health challenges to an individual. Risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes increase steadily with an increasing BMI.

But that twinge of joint pain you experience every once in a while might be well connected to your body weight as well, and surprisingly, it’s not limited to only weight-bearing joints.

How body weight affects joints

Our joints play an important role in allowing body movement across a large range of motion.

Have you ever wondered on how much weight your joint sustains from each bodily movement you make?

When walking on level ground, the force exerted on your knees is said to be equivalent to one and a half times your total body weight. That means an 80 kg man will exert 120 kg of pressure on his knees with each step.

When walking at an inclination, the pressure is greater. The force on each knee is two to three times your total body weight as you climb.

Walking down a flight of stairs or squatting to tie your shoelaces, even picking up an item on the ground exerts as much as four to five times your total body weight on your knees.

Given the substantial amount of pressure exerted, the increased risk of developing osteoarthritis in overweight or obese individuals is often seen as due to the extra stress exerted on weight-bearing joints.

However, the effect of body weight on joint pain is not primarily due to physical exertion.

Studies have now shown that inflammation rather than physical exertion is the vital cause of accelerated arthritis in those carrying excess body weight.

Obesity and arthritis

As osteoarthritis occurs in both weight-bearing and non weight-bearing joints, systemic inflammation provides a better explanation of how excess body weight contributes to it.

This also explains why excess weight also contributes to rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that results in inflammation in the body and leads to joint pain.

Inflammatory chemicals in fat are discovered to impact the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems.

This includes adipokines that are secreted by fat cells and promote inflammation.

These inflammatory factors associated with weight gain explain why other non weight-bearing joints such as those in the hands can be affected by arthritis as well.

Relieving joint pain by losing weight

Losing a few pounds can go a long way towards reducing the pressure on your joints and protecting them from inflammation.

Research has shown that a sustained 5-7 kg loss in weight in obese young people can reduce the risk of osteoarthritis later in life.

But increasing physical activity may be challenging especially if you are suffering from joint pain.

Stepping up your exercise alone is also not enough to help you lose weight. Hence, start with light exercise and learn to manage your calorie intake to lose weight and improve your health.