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Obesity and Joint Pain: A Weighty Issue

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I had never really thought about how painful and stressful excess weight can be on our bodies until one day a few years ago when I was out making sales calls with a co-worker. As I drove up to the place of business where we were having a meeting, I casually parked the car about three rows out, not giving a second thought to walking to the front door from that distance. My co-worker, who at the time could be classified as morbidly obese, requested that I drop her off at the front door, as it hurt for her to walk that far, and she explained that her knees and ankles especially took the brunt of the pain.

I willingly obliged her request, and as I watched her walk the few short yards from the drop-off point to the front door of the building, it was obvious that even walking such a short distance with all of that extra weight was all but crippling her. I could only imagine the stress that it was putting on her body and the wear and tear it was causing her joints.

Health and fitness are top priorities of mine, so researching this topic has been quite interesting. I recently became acquainted with a wonderful woman, Tina Bryant Cochran, who is a certified health coach (www.masteryourweight.com). She discovered her passion to help others when she, too, was suffering from obesity. Cochran indicated that when her young son suggested she try out for the reality show, “The Biggest Loser,” the grim reality of her weight issues set in.

“When I was sick and overweight,” she explained. “All of my joints hurt, including my knees.”

At 5’ 5” tall and weighing 252 pounds, just climbing the steps in her home was appreciably painful on all of her joints. When she made a commitment to eat a healthier diet and commence an exercise program, the reduction in pain was noticeable almost immediately, as the pounds slowly began to drop.

Shortly thereafter, Cochran's mom, inspired by her daughter, decided to lose a few pounds too. She had been suffering from arthritis and was facing possible hip joint replacement. She switched to a low-glycemic diet and lost 35 pounds. Even though she still had to undergo the surgery, her recovery time was much faster, and she was back at work in five weeks. That’s not bad for a woman who is almost 70 years of age!

It is a known fact that joint pain is closely related to body weight. Just being 10 pounds overweight dramatically increases the force on the knee by up to 60 pounds with each step. The most common joint disorder associated with obesity is osteoarthritis, with symptoms surfacing in the hands, knees, hips, back, and neck. Excess weight increases the load that is placed on the joints, which increases stress, creating a rapid breakdown of cartilage. When we walk, nearly three to six times our own body weight is exerted across the knee, so just imagine what an increase in your body weight will do. Overweight women are four times at risk for developing osteoarthritis of the knee. For men, the risk is five times greater.

It would appear that the most obvious way to combat this added stress is to lose weight. Even losing just a small amount of weight can reduce the risk of developing osteoarthritis. If a woman of normal height loses just 11 pounds, her risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knee drops by 50 percent or more. Conversely, an increase in weight creates a higher percentage of developing the disease. The math seems pretty simple.

While it is important to discuss your physical condition with your doctor before undertaking any weight loss or diet program, exercise is essential for people with arthritis. It will increase your strength and flexibility, reduce your joint pain, and give you more energy. However, much like my obese co-worker, just taking a short walk was enough to make her want to sit out the rest of the day on the park bench, as her knees and ankles hurt so badly. While many may think that exercising will exacerbate their joint pain and stiffness (and some may actually use that as an excuse not to exercise), the opposite is true. When you do not exercise, your joints will become stiff and sore. It is important to keep your muscles and surrounding tissue strong so that they can fully support your bones. Lack of exercise is associated with weak muscles and weak bones.

One of the best, easiest, and least expensive forms of exercise is walking. Start slowly. Don’t expect to go at a hare’s pace. Even just a walk around the block is a great start. Aim to increase your distance on a daily basis. Before you know it, a walk in the park will be, well, just that… a walk in the park! However, consult your physician for the best form of exercise for you. Then be prepared to kiss that joint pain good-bye!

Information for this article was found at http://www.hopkins-arthritis.org/patient-corner/disease-management/osteoandweight.html and http://www.obesitydiscussion.com/forums/exercise-weight-training-and-cardio/exercising-arthritis-improve-joint-pain-709.html

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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