MRI Reveals that Weight Loss Protects Knees

Posted 01/18/2016 | By HealthCorps

There’s a long list of reasons that should compel you to lose excess weight. Being diagnosed with obesity means that you have a higher risk of:

• Heart disease and stroke
• High blood pressure
• Type 2 diabetes
• Certain cancers
• Gallbladder disease and gallstones
• Osteoarthritis
• Gout
• Breathing problems including sleep apnea and asthma

A new study suggests that if you have been diagnosed with obesity and you lose a significant amount of weight, you can slow the degeneration of your knee cartilage. When the excess weight that you carry constantly puts pressure on your knees as you move and walk, you have a higher risk of developing degeneration of the cartilage which at some point leads to osteoarthritis.

Since knees are vulnerable to additional pressure, it’s not surprising that the knee joint is a common location for arthritis. If you do develop serious osteoarthritis, the current treatment of choice to restore movement and reduce pain, is knee replacement surgery. Imagine if you develop obesity as a child or teen and experience the constant additional pressure of excess weight on your knees from that young age. It’s clear that you will likely develop knee issues at a young age. Active, aging baby boomers, who have carried excess weight for many years, are the most common group with higher rates of osteoarthritis. Degenerative bone disease causes pain and disability, so the earlier it shows up, the more likely the individual will experience physical limitations, pain, and disability. This is not something we want to see in young adults.

The study looked at the association between different amounts of weight loss and how it affected progression of knee cartilage degeneration in 506 overweight and obese patients from the Osteoarthritis Initiative, a nationwide study focused on the prevention and treatment of knee osteoarthritis. All the patients at baseline had “mild to moderate osteoarthritis.” They were then divided into three groups – a control group that did not lose any weight, a second group that lost as small amount of weight, and a third group who lost more than 10% of their total body weight. MRI studies were then done to assess levels of osteoarthritis in the subjects over a four year span.

Results showed that degeneration of cartilage was significantly slower in the group that lost the most weight. In the group that lost little weight, there was also little impact on the cartilage changes (meaning that they experienced degenerative changes pacing with the no loss weight group).

The researchers noted that significant weight loss will not only slow cartilage degeneration, it can actually help to prevent osteoarthritis.

In this condition, weight loss coupled with exercise, or just the weight loss itself is a viable independent solution for disease prevention. The lead researcher also pointed out that the sooner an individual loses the weight, the more helpful the intervention is in intercepting cartilage degeneration.

The findings are an especially important message to parents whose children or teens have higher BMIs or have been diagnosed with obesity. Earlier lifestyle interventions can have a major positive impact on quality of life and avert inevitable conditions like knee osteoarthritis. Programs like HealthCorps can allow teens to learn about how nutrition, exercise, and disease like obesity impact their health. The information can then influence change.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Radiological Society of North America

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