Having difficulty walking short distances due to joint pain can be quite frustrating. Not being able to play with your grandchildren when they are running around can also make you feel left out. Various medications exist to help deal with this pain, but this is just a bandage solution that is not addressing the real problem. The loss of cartilage in the joints is a primary cause of joint pain, and being overweight only aggravates the condition. But there is hope, as a recent study reports that overweight or obese people who have lost weight showed significantly lower degeneration of knee cartilage.
Osteoarthritis in one of the most common causes of chronic joint pain, with the knees being a frequent target. Obesity has been known as a risk factor for osteoarthritis, predisposing one to the condition due to the fact that the extra pounds are putting excessive pressure on the joints and cartilage, causing them to wear away. In addition to this direct physical impact, having more body fat leads to higher levels of substances in the blood that lead to increased inflammation, another contributor to the risk of developing osteoarthritis.
To assess this relation and analyze the differences between groups with and without weight loss, the researchers looked at the degeneration of all knee structures. With the use of MRI scans, they were able to track the progression of cartilage changes over a 48-month period in over 640 overweight and obese patients (minimal body mass index of 25kg/m2) who had risk factors for osteoarthritis or who have already exhibited signs of mild to moderate osteoarthritis. The participants were divided into the following groups: those who lost more than 10 percent of their body weight, those who lost five to 10 percent of their body weight, and a control group whose weight remained unchanged throughout the study. All data was collected from the Osteoarthritis Initiative, a nationwide study focused on the prevention and treatment of knee osteoarthritis.
The researchers discovered that weight loss slowed joint cartilage degeneration and brought on changes in the menisci—the fibrous cartilage between the knee joint and the source of much osteoarthritis pain.
“The most exciting finding of our research was that not only did we see slower degeneration in the articular cartilage, we saw that the menisci degenerated a lot slower in overweight and obese individuals who lost more than five percent of their body weight and that the effects were strongest in overweight individuals and in individuals with substantial weight loss,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Alexandra Gersing from the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California, San Francisco.
This study yet again stresses the importance of weight loss, which is a common recommendation for obese osteoarthritis patients. The researchers recommend that individualized therapy strategies and lifestyle interventions should be implemented as early as possible in order to prevent structural knee joint degeneration.