Can decreasing weight decrease pain? Here’s what you need to know.

If you’re carrying extra weight, your health care provider has likely encouraged you to lose some pounds to help manage your arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis (OA). Being overweight also significantly increases your risk of developing OA, especially in knees. Of course, losing weight can be a challenge when you’re living with arthritis: pain, fatigue and stiffness means you may not be able to do your favourite workout the way you used to, or you turn to comfort eating to distract yourself. “It can become a vicious cycle,” says Dr. Angela How, a rheumatologist in Burnaby BC. Still, the payoffs of less pain and disability are pretty enticing. Here’s what to keep in mind when you need a little motivation.

Carrying extra weight can…

Increase the load on your joints

Being only ten pounds (4.5 kg) overweight increases the force on your knee by 30 to 60 pounds (13 to 27 kg) with every step you take. That force increases substantially if you’re walking uphill, and even more if you’re stooping down to get something. Researchers have found that if you are overweight or obese and have knee OA, a 10% or more weight loss over a year and a half can significantly reduce pain and boost mobility and function.

Boost inflammation

“Adipose tissue, or fat tissue, is not an inactive tissue. It’s metabolically active,” says Dr. How. Excess adipose tissue is a source of inflammatory proteins called cytokines which lead to constant low inflammation that affects the whole body, including your joints. “The more adipose tissue you have, the more likely you will have inflammation, and that’s true in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) as well, not just OA.”

Affect medication effectiveness

“Fat can store certain medications that are fat-soluble, which means that these medications are less available [to the body],” notes Dr. How. A number of studies suggest that medications, including biologics, don’t work as well on RA when the patient is overweight, although it’s not yet clear why.

A lot of aspects of arthritis are out of your control, but weight doesn’t have to be one of them. Talk with your arthritis care team to figure out a plan to help you manage your weight through food and exercise choices that make sense for you.  Visit the Arthritis Society’s online modules for more information on Eating Well and Staying Active.

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