Obesity, a Risk for Arthritis of the Knee

Obesity, a Risk for Arthritis of the Knee

Overweight? A Risk for Arthritis of the Knee

Obesity is a risk factor for arthritis of the knee. Exercise may help reduce knee pain and improve mobility.

Nearly half of all American adults will get osteoarthritis of the knee by age 85. So says a landmark study funded by the Centers for Disease Control. The study followed over 3,000 people in the rural South, and showed the highest risk was among those who were overweight or obese.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a painful degenerative joint disease. Over time, the cartilage or “cushioning” between two bones wears away. What’s left is a painful, inflamed area that impairs your ability to move.

The study showed that nearly two in three people who are obese will get knee arthritis in their lifetime. And, since obesity is developing at a younger age, so is osteoarthritis. This was especially true in African American women in their 40s and 50s. This finding suggests osteoarthritis is becoming more a condition of middle-aged people.

What can I do about it?

Combining diet and exercise with the goal of reaching and maintaining a healthy weight may help prevent and treat osteoarthritis of the knee. The Arthritis Foundation says losing just 15 pounds can often cut knee pain in half.

Regular exercise builds muscles around the joint, which may reduce pain and increase mobility. It can also help you lose weight if needed. An exercise program that has shown to benefit people with arthritis of the knee consists of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, combined with 15 minutes of resistance training, three days a week. Flexibility training is also an important part of the program.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, regular, moderate exercise helps with all types of arthritis, even if you are in pain.

Exercise programs that may help arthritis of the knee:

  • Water exercise. If you are in pain, you may want to start with an instructor-led water exercise program. The buoyancy of the water takes the weight off of your knees (as well as your hips and spine) while you are having fun doing jumping jacks or other types of aerobic exercise. All of this can be done without you even knowing how to swim and with your head above water.
  • A walking program. You can build an entire exercise program around walking, which is a low-impact exercise.
  • A mix. Include exercises for flexibility, cardiovascular fitness and strength training.
    • Flexibility exercises like yoga, tai chi or simple stretching is especially important to help keep range of motion in the knee and in other joints that may have arthritis.
    • Cardiovascular exercises are good for the heart and lungs. They use large muscle groups – like the legs and arms – and keep them in a continuous rhythmic motion. Examples of cardiovascular exercises are walking, bicycling and swimming.
    • Strength training builds muscle and helps take stress off of the knee. This includes weightlifting using free weights or machines.

Other things to consider about exercise:

  • Start out slowly and gradually increase the intensity of your program.
  • When stretching, do so slowly to the point of mild tension. Do not bounce. Breathe while holding your stretch.
  • Consider doing weight training under supervision to make sure you use proper form and don’t injure yourself.
  • Choose something fun or a combination of activities that you will enjoy doing a few times a week.
  • Avoid running and jogging, which may be too painful and are not recommended if you have arthritis of the knee.
  • See your doctor before you start or before you change your exercise program.
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