Osteoarthritis is one of the leading causes of pain and disability. With growing rates of obesity in Australia, a new study has found managing your weight can be the key to stopping your osteoarthritis in it’s tracks.

The study published in Radiology [1] published earlier this month, showed people with osteoarthritis of the knee who lost 5-10% of their body weight showed slower signs of knee joint degeneration on their scans than those who did not lose any weight.

Being overweight places additional pressure on cartilage structures of of the large joints like the knees and hips. Joints with osteoarthritis show a breakdown of cartilage, the tissue that protects the joints at the ends of bones and enables them to move smoothly, so it makes sense that this breakdown would be more rapid when additional weight and pressure is placed on this cartilage.

Ok, so this isn’t exactly news-worthy…

But, the more exciting news to come out of the this study is the ability of people with osteoarthritis to halt the damage to the joint cartilage, menisci and bone marrow with weight loss.

The study grouped 640 adults with mild-moderate osteoarthritis in one or both knees who were in the obese weight range, according to how much weight they lost – 0%, 5-10% or greater than 10% of their body weight. They found that those who lost at least 5% of their body weight had significantly slowed the progress of their disease. The bigger the percentage of weightless, the greater the positive effect on the joint.

Alright, so I need to lose weight. How exactly do I do that?

This is a really common question we get. Many people are told by their GP or specialists they need to lose weight. But it can be really difficult when you try to exercise and it makes your joints feel worse.

The answer is… there isn’t a one-size fits all for everyone and no one type of exercise has been shown to be “the best” when it comes to managing osteoarthritis. What we do know is, high impact activities such as running, aerobic classes and high intensity workouts like cross-fit, which are all very effective at helping you lose weight, are likely to put more pressure through your joints and will leave you feeling very sore. So unless you’re already quite fit and active already, these aren’t the kinds of exercise you should be looking at.

Try to pick exercise styles that increase your heart rate and give you a good cardio workout, while not placing extremely high forces that may cause further damage to your joints.

If you’re starting out on an exercise program for the first time, the best piece of advice is to seek advice from your GP and a health professional who specialises in delivering exercise therapies like a Physiotherapist or an Accredited Exercise Physiologist.

But here’s some ideas you might like to try:

  • Cycling – either outdoor or stationary
  • Swimming
  • Walking – start on flat even walking trails and you can progress to hill climbs or even hiking
  • Aquatic aerobics
  • Pilates
  • Strength exercises that focus on bodyweight or low resistance, with a high repetition. Classes like Body Pump can be a great alternative for those who like to exercise in a group environment
  • Some dance classes, especially those designed to be lower impact eg. Zumba Gold and some ballroom or latin dance classes

[1] Gersing, Schwaiger, Nevitt, Joseph, Chanchek, Guimaraes, Wamba, Facchetti, McCulloch, & Link. (2017) Is Weight loss associated with less Progression of changes in Knee articular cartilage among Obese and Overweight Patients as assessed with Mr imaging over 48 Months? Data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative1 Radiology. Posted online on 2 May 2017.