Does obesity cause arthritis

7 Reasons to Lose Weight When You Have Arthritis

Just as being overweight is linked to increased arthritis pain, weight loss may help improve arthritis symptoms.

Obesity affects arthritis for two reasons: First, the excess load on your joints can cause pain and discomfort. “But also, maybe even more importantly, a number of inflammatory mediators produced in fat affect joint tissues and play a role in pain,” says rheumatologist Richard F. Loeser, Jr., MD, a director of basic and translational research at the Thurston Arthritis Research Center at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill.

Take a look at the following seven benefits of weight loss for arthritis, and you might just find the motivation you need to shed pounds, too.

1. A reduction in pain. Less body weight often equals less pain. Adults with osteoarthritis who lost weight through a combination of diet and exercise over a period of 18 months reported less knee pain, notes a study in the September 2013 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The researchers, led by Dr. Loeser, found that dropping just 10 percent of your body weight makes a difference. “The people who had the most improvement in pain and function were the ones who followed both a diet and exercise program,” Loeser points out.

2. Better joint function. Weight loss also appears to improve joint function. In his JAMA study, Loeser found that mechanical pressures inside the knee joint improved with weight loss. Although the best results came when both exercise and diet were involved, just losing weight significantly improved knee function. He emphasizes that reducing calorie and fat intake is essential if you’re overweight and have arthritis. Aim for losing a pound a week, but give yourself time — six months is a reasonable time frame to see big changes, he says. Most importantly, for continued relief you have to make a lifelong commitment to change your lifestyle.

3. Feeling better overall. After losing weight through diet and exercise, study participants also reported improved physical quality of life that went beyond the specific joints causing pain. Loeser explains that you don’t have to follow the exact exercise plan of this study, which involved a combination of aerobics and weight training for one hour three times a week. Rather, you can spread out an equivalent amount of exercise throughout the week. Consider working with a trainer or joining a group fitness program to get a level of supervision similar to that of the exercise and arthritis study participants.

4. Less inflammation. When you’re overweight and have arthritis, signs of inflammation course throughout your body, which creates chemical markers that researchers can track to measure how much system-wide inflammation you have. One of these markers is interleukin-6 (IL-6). Loeser and his fellow researchers were able to see that IL-6 levels went down over the course of the participants’ 18 months of exercise and weight loss. Leptin is another potentially inflammatory factor researchers are closely examining.

RELATED: 6 Best Teas for Arthritis Symptoms

“I would also suggest reducing the intake of omega-6 fatty acids and increasing omega-3s,” says Richard M. Aspden, PhD, a musculoskeletal inflammation researcher and professor of orthopedic science at the University of Aberdeen in Foresterhill, Scotland. Omega-3s are found in foods like fatty fish, olive oil, and walnuts; omega-6s are found in meat and oils such as safflower or corn oil. Both are necessary for a healthy diet, but the average American consumes too many omega-6s in relation to omega-3s, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

5. Better heart health. Researchers are digging into the links between arthritis, weight, and metabolic syndrome, which include heart disease risk factors, according to Tim Griffin, PhD, a researcher with the Free Radical Biology and Aging Program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation in Oklahoma City.

For instance, painful hand osteoarthritis is linked to heart disease events such as heart attack, according to data from the Framingham Heart Study published in the Annals of Rheumatic Disease in September 2013. Weight management is generally recommended not just for controlling arthritis, but also to maintain good heart health.

6. A good night’s sleep. Musculoskeletal pain interferes with sleep and seems to lead to insomnia over the years, reported researchers in the August 2014 journal Rheumatology. Weight loss, though, can lead to better sleep.

“Once patients engage in a healthy exercise program, that would help improve their sleep pattern,” points out rheumatologist Dennis C. Ang, MD, associate professor of medicine and chief of the section of rheumatology and immunology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

7. Cost savings. Arthritis can be a costly disease. Including treatment expenses and earnings lost because of the condition, the nationwide toll reaches at least $128 billion a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Individually, that can place a significant burden on people with arthritis who are faced with increasing medication costs and, possibly, declining incomes. But Dr. Ang points out that, because weight loss can lead to improved function and less pain, it could yield pocketbook benefits once fewer medications are needed.

Why weight matters when it comes to joint pain

If you’re having the occasional twinge of joint pain when you go for a walk or climb stairs, or you’re worried about arthritis because a parent had it, one step toward prevention is to check your weight.

There are two ways that being overweight raises your risk for developing osteoarthritis (the most common joint disorder, which is due to wear and tear on a joint). First, excess weight puts additional stress on weight-bearing joints (the knee, for example). Second, inflammatory factors associated with weight gain might contribute to trouble in other joints (for example, the hands).

Let’s look at weight and your knees. When you walk across level ground, the force on your knees is the equivalent of 1½ times your body weight. That means a 200-pound man will put 300 pounds of pressure on his knees with each step. Add an incline, and the pressure is even greater: the force on each knee is two to three times your body weight when you go up and down stairs, and four to five times your body weight when you squat to tie a shoelace or pick up an item you dropped.

Losing a few pounds can go a long way toward reducing the pressure on your knees — and protecting them. For example, research has proven that a sustained 10- to 15-pound weight loss in obese young people can translate to a much lower risk of osteoarthritis later in life.

The best tactics for losing weight

Increasing physical activity has many health benefits and can help you shed weight. But stepping up your exercise alone is rarely enough to help you lose weight. Every pound you’d like to shed represents roughly 3,500 calories. So if you’re hoping to lose half a pound to one pound a week, you need to knock off 250 to 500 calories a day. A good way to start is to try to burn 125 calories through exercise and eat 125 fewer calories each day.

Don’t forget that the math works both ways: indulging in an extra 100 calories a day without burning them off can leave you 10 pounds heavier at the end of a year! Over time, routine treats like a scoop or two of ice cream, a calorie-packed coffee drink, or visits to the cookie or candy jar can tip the scales in the wrong direction.

For more on developing and mastering joint pain relief workout, read The Joint Pain Relief Workout, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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Obesity Stokes Rheumatoid Arthritis With More Than Just Extra Weight

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that can cause painful inflammation in the fingers and other joints. Richard Rudisill/ hide caption

toggle caption Richard Rudisill/

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that can cause painful inflammation in the fingers and other joints.

Richard Rudisill/

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that causes painful joint inflammation and can be debilitating for many people who suffer from it. New research shows that the female hormone estrogen, along with proteins produced by the body’s fat cells, may play an important role in the development of the disease.

A recent study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that obese individuals were 25 percent more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than people of normal weight. And although it may seem intuitive that excess body weight could cause joint pain, says Eric Matteson, a rheumatologist at the Mayo Clinic who led the study, the link between rheumatoid arthritis and obesity is more than just stress on the joints from being heavy.

“The link, we think, has to do with the activity of the fat cells themselves,” says Matteson.

Unlike osteoarthritis, a form of arthritis that is caused by wear and tear on the joints, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, says Matteson. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the lining around joints, and the resulting inflammation leads to the destruction of bone and cartilage. Matteson says it’s the fat cells that stoke the fire of inflammation.

“We have recognized in the past several years that fat cells are important mediators of inflammation,” Matteson says. “They are immunologically active, and they produce proteins that are inflammatory.”

Along with a host of molecules that increase inflammation, fat cells produce the female sex hormone estrogen. What’s more, there seems to be a gender bias in inflammatory diseases: A woman’s risk of developing one is nearly twice that of a man’s, and three out of four people who have rheumatoid of arthritis are women.

But studies on estrogen replacement and oral contraceptives have yielded conflicting results, leading Matteson and others to conclude that estrogen is likely just a small piece of a complicated puzzle.

“There’s definitely a hormonal link, although we don’t know yet what the exact nature of that link is,” says Matteson.

Over the past several decades, obesity rates have risen, and so have the rates of arthritis. Matteson says drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis generally don’t work very well in obese patients.

But if being obese increases your risk, does losing weight help? Matteson believes it can help a lot: Not only does it help relieve stress on painful and inflamed joints, he says, but losing weight also generally makes the drugs work better.

Gail Bishop, 58, agrees. She has had arthritis since she was 16, and although she is a healthy weight now, she was once 65 pounds heavier. She says losing the weight and watching her diet has had an enormous impact on her arthritis symptoms.

“When I was heavier, that knee gave me quite a bit of trouble,” says Bishop. “And now that the weight is off, it’s pretty much pain-free. So it makes a dramatic difference.”

Bishop says she may not be able to control her arthritis, but she can control what she puts in her mouth — and as a result, how she feels. Another way to reduce risk: Don’t smoke. Smoking dramatically increases the chances of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Weight Loss for Adults with Arthritis

Losing weight can ease arthritis pain. Healthcare professionals should counsel patients who weigh more than recommended on weight loss to ease arthritis pain.

Talking to Arthritis Patients about Weight Loss

Weight loss eases arthritis pain and improves the quality of life of adults living with arthritis, especially if they are overweight or have obesity. More than 54 million US adults have arthritis. Among adults with arthritis, 39 million are overweight or have obesity.

Healthcare professionals can counsel their arthritis patients to lose weight if they are overweight or have obesity. Research suggests that patients who receive weight counseling from a healthcare professional are almost 4 times more likely to attempt weight loss than those not receiving counseling. Adults with arthritis can decrease pain and improve function by being at a healthy weight. Weight loss is a non-drug way to manage arthritis and ease joint pain.

A healthcare professional can talk to a patient with arthritis about weight loss options.

New Study on Weight Loss Counseling Arthritis Patients

A new CDC study found that healthcare professionals’ counseling for weight loss for adults with arthritis who are overweight or have obesity increased from approximately 35% in 2002 to 46% in 2014. Still, more than half of adults who have arthritis and weigh more than recommended are not receiving healthcare professional counseling to lose weight.

Healthcare professionals should talk to their patients about physical activity and nutrition options to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.

Healthcare Professionals: Tips to Improve Your Arthritis Patients’ Health

  • Counseling for achieving or maintaining a healthy weight—Research confirms that maintaining a healthy weight can limit disease progression and activity limitations. For every pound lost, there is a 4 pound reduction in the load exerted on the knee. That means that a modest weight loss (5% or 12 pounds for a 250 pound person) can help reduce pain and disability.
  • Counseling for low-impact physical activities—Physical activity eases arthritis pain. Walking, biking, swimming, and water activities are all good non-drug ways to ease arthritis pain and are safe for most adults. These forms of physical activity can also improve joint function and mood. Healthcare professionals should discuss physical activity options with their patients to determine what’s most appropriate.
  • Advising 150 minutes per week—Adults benefit from 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week, such as brisk walking. That may sounds like a lot of time, but physical activity can be spread out during the week. It can even be broken up into smaller chunks of time, such as 10 minutes at a time throughout the day.
  • Promoting physical activity classes—Recommend proven community-based classes available at local YMCAs, parks, and recreation or community centers that can teach adults with arthritis how to exercise safely and feel their best. These classes have been shown to reduce pain and disability related to arthritis, and improve movement and mood.
  • Suggesting self-management education classes—Recommend locally available, proven self-management education workshops designed to teach people with arthritis and other chronic conditions how to control their symptoms and to develop more confidence in managing health problems affecting their lives. Often people who have experience living with arthritis or other chronic conditions lead these classes.

Weight Loss and Arthritis

Learn how you can lessen joint pain and other health risks by losing weight.

Updated, 2019
Most people know that maintaining a healthy weight is important for their overall health and wellbeing. Despite this, over 63% of Australian adults are overweight or obese, making it the second highest contributor to the burden of disease.

It is important to keep in mind that losing weight is not a race – whether you need to lose 10, 20 or 50kg – and the benefits of losing weight and being physically active go far beyond how you look in the mirror. It’s a lifelong commitment to a healthier you – for yourself and your family.

As always, consult your health care team before beginning any weight loss program. The Queensland Government’s Happier. Healthier resource has some great tips on how to live a more active and healthy life, .


Reduces pressure on your joints: Losing weight can help to reduce the severity and pain associated with arthritis, and also helps to avoid the need for costly and traumatic surgeries. A 2014 study conducted by Australia’s National Preventative Health Agency reported that obesity increases the risk of arthritis and back pain.

There are many reasons why this is the case. One of the more common reasons is that any additional weight we carry, the more pressure we place on our joints. It is estimated for every kilo of excess weight we carry, an extra load of 4kgs is put on our knee joints. This not only increases the risk of developing arthritis, it may also increase the pain and swelling associated with the conditions.

Lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke: Australia’s National Vascular Alliance reports that every hour, five Australians die from heart, stroke and blood vessel disease. Obesity is a risk factor for all these conditions. Research also shows that people with some form of arthritis are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, making the need to control weight all the more critical.

Studies have shown that losing weight can lower your blood pressure into a healthy range. In addition, eating right and engaging in physical activity that leads to weight loss can lower your cholesterol.


Weight loss is a tough endeavour, but no single action can provide as many positive effects on the body as weight loss. Its benefits for your body far outnumber the challenges you’ll meet as you work toward your weight loss goal.

Talk to your health care team about starting your weight loss program to gain lasting, better overall physical and mental health.

Additional references

Does Weight Loss Help Joint Pain and Symptoms of Arthritis?

Osteoarthritis, commonly referred to simply as arthritis, is caused by a gradual wearing down of the cartilage in the body’s joints. It can happen in any joint but is more likely in joints that bear the most weight in the body, such as the low back, knees and hips. If pain is severe enough, it can lead to a decrease in quality of life.

Prevalence of arthritis in the U.S.

Understandably, this issue becomes more prevalent with aging after years of “wear and tear” with activity. Osteoarthritis is now the most common joint disorder in the U.S. It is now becoming more prevalent across all age groups. Why are people developing arthritis so early? Speculation centers around two main reasons: a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight (two concepts that typically go hand in hand).

How weight affects our joints.

As your body weight increases, your overall health is at a greater risk for a plethora of problems. Particularly in our joints, each extra pound of weight puts a significant amount of strain on our joints. The cartilage that we have in our joints is meant to provide shock absorption and cushioning for everyday activities. When joint stress becomes too much, it causes rapid degradation and dysfunction. Cartilage wear can cause joint and muscle imbalances that ultimately lead to inefficient movement and pain.

It’s never too late to lose weight.

Research shows that weight loss and exercise are both great ways to better manage arthritis symptoms. For every pound loss, your tolerance for exercise will advance, joint balance will improve, and pain will decrease. Don’t lose hope! If you are feeling stuck in your weight loss and arthritis journey due to pain, consider talking to a health care professional, such as a dietician, physical therapist, and/or orthopedist to get recommendations on where to start.

Tips for weight loss

  • Start small. You can (and should) set big goals, but make sure you have a plan for taking that first step. Setting small, achievable, actionable steps will help you maintain motivation. You can start as simple as walking or exercising for 5 minutes during a work break, using a pedometer, doing 10 repetitions of an exercise first thing in the morning or taking the stairs.
  • Hold yourself accountable. Find a workout partner, tell a loved one about your weight loss goals, and write your goals down on paper. Make sure to put them where you will see them daily. Give these people (and yourself) permission to check in and make sure you’re staying on track.
  • Minimize a sedentary lifestyle. Sitting is not good for your general health, weight loss goals, or sore joints. If possible, minimize your time sitting. If you must be at a desk, you should consider investing in a standing desk, such as a Smart Workstation , or even a Desk Bike. Exercising while watching TV, listening to music, or other simple activities is another great way to add more movement to your day.
  • Exercise. Of course, exercise is going to play a large role in weight loss AND proper management of your arthritis pain. This is because it promotes circulation to the affected joints. Frustratingly, arthritis pain may be affecting your ability to participate in any exercise. Try to choose low impact moves that are kinder to your joints such as swimming, biking, and walking. Also start a stretching program for your joints to promote circulation and flexibility.
  • Diet. When exercise is limited due to pain, diet will play an even larger role for losing weight. What you eat is arguably the single most important and most easily controlled part of losing weight. However, changing eating habits takes dedication and direction so seek help if needed. Try to aim for less processed and more whole fresh foods.
  • Other options. There are many other factors that play a role in your body’s ability to maintain a healthy weight. Adequate stress management and sleep are two big factors. Consider meditation, yoga, social time, decreased screen time, and time in nature to help build better balance in your life.

Find what works for you.

There is no magical way to lose weight and reduce joint pain. The key is to find meals, exercise, and other personal health options that you enjoy. When you enjoy them and do them consistently, you will build habits that are easier to manage consistently on your road to recovery. Don’t resign yourself to a life of misery due to your joint pain, with the right assistance and attention you can continue living, or return to, a high quality of life.

  • Anti-inflammatory medications. Pain-relief drugs can be taken by mouth or applied to the skin.
  • Injections. If the pain is disabling, injecting corticosteroid (to decrease inflammation) or viscosupplementation into the joint may help. Viscosupplementation is similar to a lubricating gel that can be injected into the knee joint to help decrease pain with movement.
  • Radiofrequency ablation (RFA). This relatively new treatment for knee pain uses a special needle with a heating tip. When placed near the knee’s sensory nerves, the intense heat alters the nerves to stop them from transmitting pain. The procedure takes less than 30 minutes, it is an outpatient procedure in the doctor’s office, and it requires no recovery time. Patients can be pain-free for months or years. “Radiofrequency ablation is a way to delay knee replacement,” says Dr. Bolash. “It buys time for the patient to lose weight, perhaps so they can become eligible for knee replacement later.”

Get moving

The best treatment for joint pain is stopping it before it starts. Protect your hips and knees for the long-term by lightening your load. If you need to lose a few pounds, get moving now before moving gets you.

What you can do to help:

  • Know your body mass index (BMI)
  • Know your waist circumference
  • Participate in moderate physical activity
  • Make dietary modifications as needed to lose weight

It is also important to get the proper diagnosis because many other joint conditions can cause joint pain. These include autoimmune related arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout or septic joint.

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