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Weight loss can improve knee arthritis

Carrying extra pounds can make osteoarthritis symptoms worse. Fortunately, shedding even a relatively small amount of weight can help you feel better.

Extra pounds and arthritis are not a good combination. Being overweight adds stress to your lower body with every step you take. In fact, with each pound you put on, your knees absorb about 6 extra pounds of pressure, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

All that punishment can contribute to a diagnosis of osteoarthritis—the most common form of arthritis. And once you have osteoarthritis, excess weight can make pain worse and cause the disease to progress much more rapidly. Carrying too much weight can even increase the likelihood that you might one day need a knee replacement, the foundation cautions.

Fortunately, the reverse is also true: Slimming down can ease arthritis pain and slow damage to knee joints.

What's more, even a fairly small weight loss can pay off with big improvements in arthritis symptoms. Losing even a modest amount of weight can provide immediate benefits in overweight people, according to the foundation.

Moving the scale in the right direction

Admittedly, dropping pounds is difficult. But it is possible if you make some changes in your eating and exercise habits.

Cut calories. Like anyone else who wants to lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories by watching portion sizes and eating mostly lean and low-fat foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Even though you have osteoarthritis, there are no specific foods you need to eat or special weight-loss diets you need to follow.

Move regularly—and safely. When you're achy and sore from arthritis, one of the last things you may want to do is exercise. Still, it's crucial that you do so. Physical activity can help you burn calories and shed extra pounds, which will, in turn, improve your arthritis symptoms. Exercise also has a direct benefit on arthritis. It reduces joint pain, inflammation and stiffness; strengthens the muscles around the joints; and increases flexibility and endurance.

Having arthritis does mean that you'll need to take a few precautions when you're active though. Here are some key safety tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Go slow. Your body needs more time to adjust to a new level of exercise than someone without arthritis. If being active is new to you, limit yourself to a small amount of exercise—say, three to five minutes twice a day. Then gradually increase the length of your workouts.
  • Expect some soreness. Some joint soreness is normal for people with arthritis. But if you stick with your exercise program, you will very likely experience significant long-term pain relief.
  • Choose low-impact, joint-friendly activities. Walking, biking and doing water aerobics are generally good choices. Your doctor or a certified exercise specialist can recommend activities that are most appropriate for you.
  • Modify your routine when arthritis flares up. Your first reaction when symptoms increase may be to stop exercising completely. But try to stay as active as possible. One way to keep exercising without making arthritis symptoms worse is to decrease the intensity, time or frequency of your workouts. You might also switch to a different activity—for example, from walking to swimming.
  • Know when to seek help. See your healthcare provider if you have exercise pain that is sharp, stabbing or constant; causes you to limp; lasts more than two hours after exercise or gets worse at night; or isn't relieved by rest, medication or hot/cold packs. Also see your provider if you have large increases in swelling or your joints are red or feel hot.

Take action now

Remember: More than most people, you have an incentive to move more, eat better and drop pounds. Slimming down is one of the best things you can do to ease arthritis symptoms.

Reviewed 3/20/2024

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