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At West Medical we treat obesity and its related health conditions. One of the most common conditions our patients struggle with is arthritis. This painful disease is made worse by excess weight, and can be improved with weight loss.

What is arthritis?

The word “arthritis” refers to a group of diseases that involve swelling and stiffness of the joints. When people talk about arthritis, they are most commonly referring to osteoarthritis, which affects approximately 27 million Americans.

When someone has osteoarthritis, the cartilage that covers the ends of their bones wears down. This cartilage is important because it provides a cushion, preventing friction when our joints move. When the cushion wears down, the movement in our joints causes pain and swelling. After years of bones rubbing together without the appropriate level of cushion, pieces of bone may chip off, or bones spurs can grow. Osteoarthritis often gets worse with time, and can cause substantial physical limitations.

Arthritis is the single largest cause of disability in the country. It is responsible for more than a million hospitalizations a year, and can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life and ability to work.

How is obesity related to arthritis?

In America, about 1 out of every 5 people has arthritis. But looking at the population of people with obesity, that number becomes more than 1 in 3. According to the Arthritis Foundation, not only does being obese increase your chances of developing arthritis, but in every case the extra weight will make arthritis worse.

Obesity makes arthritis worse because the extra weight puts more pressure on joints like your knees and hips. This causes the cartilage to break down more quickly. Studies have also shown that people with obesity are more likely to get osteoarthritis in their hands. Doctors think this increased risk may be related to extra fat in the body producing inflammatory chemicals that harm all joints – not just those that directly bear weight like hips and knees.

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How may losing weight help with arthritis?

The Arthritis Foundation recommends losing weight to improve osteoarthritis. Weight loss can reduce joint pain, as well as limit further degeneration of the cartilage that cushions our joints. It is estimated that for every 1 pound of extra weight a person carries, the knees feel the equivalent of 4 extra pounds of pressure. For example, someone who is 100 pounds overweight will feel 400 pounds of extra pressure on their knees.

Beyond the most direct relationship between extra weight and painful pressure on joints, the fat itself may be causing harm chemically. Fat has biological properties that allow it to create inflammation in our bodies. Extra fat can cause extra inflammation, which in turn increases joint pain and damage.

Next steps

If you are suffering with arthritis, losing weight can improve how you feel day-to-day, and can also limit future joint damage. For people with a substantial amount of weight to lose, bariatric surgery is considered the most safe and effective method. Please contact us here if you’d like to learn more about the surgical weight loss options we offer, or about how health conditions like arthritis can be helped with bariatric surgery.