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Why Maintaining a Healthy Weight is Vital for Your Joint Health

As physical therapists, we see joint pain that has many different causes. The most common causes of joint pain are injury, overuse, and arthritis, but did you know that your weight can play a large part in joint pain?

This picture shows two women: the left is of a 250lb woman, and the right is a 120lb woman. Focusing specifically on the knees in this picture, you can see on the right where there is space between the joint - here exists a cushioning fluid called synovial fluid and cartiledge to protect the bone. However, on the left side, there is much less of this. This is because the excess weight puts more pressure on the joints and wears away the cartiledge.

Thanks to gravity, every pound on your body means four pounds of pressure on your joints. A person with 50 extra pounds on their body has an extra 200 pounds of pressure on their joints. Each step places pressure on your body, and steps on inclined surfaces and stairs places more force on your weight-bearing joints - your hips, knees, and ankles. When you think about all the steps you take in a day, it's no surprise that people who carry extra weight have increased pain and higher rates of osteoarthritis.

Interestingly, it's not just the extra pounds of pressure that can cause problems with your joints. The Arthritis Foundation notes that fat is an active tissue that creates and releases chemicals, which promotes inflammation. The chemicals can influence the development of arthritis, as indicated by several hand osteoarthritis studies.

According to Harvard Medical School, one study shows that a young woman's chance of developing osteoarthritis decreased by half for each 11 pounds young women lost. Another study shows that men who decrease their body mass index (BMI) by 5-10% can decrease their risk of knee osteoarthritis by 20%, and women who do the same can decrease their risk by 30%.

Excess weight can also cause back pain because of the pressure placed on the spinal column. We rely on our spine to stay upright, and when there is extra weight to carry, more stress is placed on your back, causing fatigue and pain.

Losing weight isn't easy, especially if you're already in pain. Low-impact activities like cycling, walking, yoga, and swimming are good options for both people with and without joint pain, as high-impact activities like running and jumping stress joints. Low-impact builds bone density, which helps prevent or minimizes osteoporosis and the risk of broken bones.

Physical therapy can help teach you stretches and exercises that will strengthen your body. Soft tissue massage and modalities like electrical stimulation relieve pain.

If you or someone you know is suffering from pain, give us at FlexPlus Physical Therapy a call at (508) 650-0060. We'd love to help! Not sure if physical therapy is for you? Ask us for a free consultation to learn about how we can get you on the road to recovery.

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