When discussing health conditions caused by obesity, we most often hear about diabetes and heart disease. But did you know your weight can have a significant impact on your bones, joints and muscles, too? With nearly 40% of American adults considered obese1, it has become one of the most common diseases to adversely affect bone and joint health. 

The percentage of adults with obesity has more than doubled over the past 30 years, and at the current rate, 50% of American adults are expected to be diagnosed as obese by 20302. With these staggering statistics, it’s time to take a closer look at the impact of obesity on joint and bone health.

Joint damage caused by obesity

Obesity contributes to the wear-and-tear of the joints, eventually leading to osteoarthritis. The more weight that is placed on a joint the more stressed the joint becomes, causing it to wear down and become damaged. As the smooth surface at the ends of bones, or cartilage, becomes damaged and worn, you feel pain and stiffness in the joint. This can also cause swelling. 

Extra weight also puts pressure on the tendons, or connecting tissue around the joints. These tendons connect muscles to the bones. The extra load on the joints from additional weight causes the tendon to become inflamed, leading to tendonitis. 

The effects of obesity are felt especially in the hip and knee joints. In fact, each pound of body weight is equivalent to four pounds of pressure on each knee joint. For example, a person who is 10 pounds overweight has an extra 40 pounds of pressure on their knees; a person who is 100 pounds overweight has an additional 400 pounds of weight on their knees. With the number of steps we take and adding any incline, it’s easy to see how the added pressure would lead to significant damage in weight-bearing joints.

Joint replacement complications 

Obese patients are 20 times more likely to need a knee replacement than people who are not overweight. The number of total knee replacements in patients with obesity doubled from 2002 to 2009. 

There are numerous complications obesity creates with joint replacement surgery. Some studies have found a higher chance of blood clots, infection and dislocation after a hip replacement. The surgery takes longer, leading to an extended period of anesthesia in patients who are obese. The recovery often takes longer as well. 

Furthermore, those with a high body mass index (BMI) often develop arthritis at a younger age. Needing joint replacement at a younger age complicates treatment because the replacement is more likely to wear out in the patient’s lifetime.

Weight loss to reduce joint pain

If you are diagnosed with obesity, it is essential to recognize what the excess weight means for your joints and bones. The good news is you can lose weight to ease the pressure on your joints. A weight-loss program can help you achieve a healthy weight and decrease your chances of developing arthritis or joint pain.

However, we recognize that is often easier said than done. Exercise can sometimes be difficult and painful for overweight people. Our bone and joint experts recommend gentle, low-impact workouts when starting a weight-loss program. Try these exercises if you are overweight

If you need expert help, the physical therapists at Cary Orthopaedics can create an individualized program to help you regain strength and mobility while minimizing pain. You can make an appointment without a prescription by contacting one of our Triangle locations today.



1 https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html 

2 https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-trends/