When we consider joint pain, obesity is generally not the first thought that springs to mind. Yet carrying excess weight is closely associated with an increase in musculoskeletal pain; particularly in the lumbar spine and knees. If it’s not dealt with, the pain can accelerate the slide into physical, neurological and even mental illness.
It’s logical that increased body weight would put additional strain on our joints. But the additional force is significantly higher than you might imagine. When you walk normally the force on each knee is between two and three times your weight. Imagine if you gain five or ten kilos or more, your knees and hips bear the impact of this excess body weight!
Over time, excess pressure on a joint can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis (OA). Our cartilage acts as a shock absorber for our bones; with OA the cartilage wears away and becomes rough, and our bones are no longer able to move smoothly. Joints can get painful, swollen and hard to move. It’s often referred to as the “wear and tear” type of arthritis. But there is much more going on; the effects of obesity extend beyond extra stress on weight-bearing joints.
Research points to inflammation being a factor in the cause of OA, as well as a result of it. Inflammation refers to your body’s way of fighting harmful things such as infections and injuries; however it’s when this response lingers (becomes chronic), that it can have a negative impact on your health.
Fat cells, especially those deep within the abdomen, send out hormones that increase inflammation in the body. This is linked to OA, joint pain, and also the development of other conditions such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and general ill health. The conditions that can cause weight gain also increase inflammation and pain, creating a vicious cycle.
But, there is good news! It is possible to reverse this trend by losing weight. Weight loss not only reduces the mechanical forces on the joints, it can significantly decrease inflammation throughout the body.
To do this, follow a sensible and sustainable food plan that is designed to aid weight loss and reduce inflammation. Many studies recommend a mostly plant-based, wholegrain diet, like a modified Mediterranean Diet. This should provide a healthy balance of protein, carbohydrates, and the high-quality fats found in oily fish and extra virgin olive oil. Avoid excess alcohol, sugar, salt, highly processed foods, refined grains, and saturated fats.
The next time your joints are creaking and complaining, consider the connection between obesity, inflammation and joint pain. Taking steps to shed excess kilos will likely provide respite and relief.
If you are concerned you may have OA, ask your chiropractor for advice tailored to your health and condition.