Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that results in the wear and tear of joints, and most commonly the knee and hip joints. Given this nature of the disease, it is quite clear that once Osteoarthritis is diagnosed, the primary objective should be to minimize the damage caused by the disease.
In Osteoarthritis of the knee, gradually over a period, the cartilage that acts as a cushion between the femur and tibia bones gets eroded.  X-ray of patients suffering from severe Osteoarthritis clearly indicates that damage to the articular cartilage caused a reduction in the space between the bones. This erosion of the cartilage ultimately causes rubbing of the femur and tibia bones and leads to a very painful sensation.
Can losing weight help?
Researchers have analyzed the role of weight in the progression of such wear and tear. Excess weight is always a cause for concern because it results in greater stress on the joints, and hence a higher rate of wear and tear. An obese person who is also suffering from arthritis is more likely than a normal weight person, to undergo a faster erosion of the cartilage. A research carried out in Australia analyzed 120 obese subjects with BMI of 30 KG/m2 to assess the impact of obesity on their musculoskeletal health. The sample was studied for over 2 years for changes in their weight, both increase and decrease, and how it affected their joint health.[2, 3] Scientists observed that weight change had a direct opposite correlation with the volume change of the tibial cartilage. Tibial cartilage is what covers the tibial bone and provides a cushion effects during the knee movement. A mere 1 percent weight loss resulted in a 1.2 mm3 less decrease in tibial cartilage volume. Further, people who lost weight also reported a higher satisfaction with their knee joint with respect to pain sensation, stiffness and overall function as captured with Western Ontario and McMaster Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) index.
Another study presented recently in Chicago concluded that Osteoarthritis patients who lost at least 10% of their body weight had a much slower rate of degeneration of their joints as shown by the MRI scans. This study comprised of 506 patients with either overweight or obesity characteristics. Over a period of 4 years, MRI scans indicated the progression of damage to the cartilage. The study found that in patients that had at least 10% or higher weight loss, the cartilage damage was a lot slower than rest of the patients.  Researchers hypothesis is based on the fact that excess weight would naturally cause more stress on the joints. Further, excess fat cells present in the body triggers a higher level of inflammation, which is known to impact the joint health.
In essence, what all of these studies are indicating is that if you have early signs of arthritis, you can help yourself in many ways by creating a plan for weight loss.
- Weight loss can help delay the damage in your joints; that can then delay the need for more advanced treatments such as the joint replacement.
- You can maintain a better quality of life as the lower weight results in less stress on your joints, hence less pain and better motion.
How to lose weight when mobility is already affected?
However, the most pressing question that troubles Arthritis patients is about how to lose weight when they already cannot move without pain. That is where guidance from an experienced physiotherapist can help. What is required in Osteoarthritis is that one does not engage in activities which further impact the joint health. Any high-impact activity is to be avoided such as jogging, climbing stairs or any exercise that subjects the joints to high stress.
Instead, low-impact exercises have to be carried out such as slow walking with the help of a cane to support the damaged knee, when feasible or available, water-based or aqua therapy exercises, upper body exercises, light weight bearing exercise with upper body joints, Yoga exercises to name a few.
The other important way to lose weight is to plan carefully a diet that contains healthy foods and minimizes foods that are high in fat content, contain trans-fat, or high sugar content. The very first time you begin to have a persistent pain sensation on your Knees and come to know that you may be suffering from Arthritis, it is time to discuss and define a plan of action for weight loss if you fall into the category of overweight or obesity.
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- Weight change and change in tibial cartilage volume and symptoms in obese adults; Annals of the Rheumatic Disease; Andrew J Teichtahl, Anita E Wluka, Stephanie K Tanamas, Yuanyuan Wang, Boyd J Strauss, Joseph Proietto, John B Dixon, Graeme Jones, Andrew Forbes, Flavia M Cicuttini; Annals of the Rheumatic Disease; 11 February 2014
- The relationship between body composition and knee cartilage volume in healthy, middle‐aged subjects; Cicuttini, Flavia M.; Teichtahl, Andrew J.; Wluka, Anita E.; Davis, Susan; Strauss, Boyd J. G.; Arthritis & Rheumatology, Volume 52 (2) – Feb 1, 2005