Be Kind to Your Knees

Want to lessen the pain? Losing a few pounds can help

Each pound of extra weight puts five pounds of stress on the knees. That means if you’re 30 pounds overweight, your knees are feeling 150 pounds of extra pressure.

And that’s if you’re engaging in normal activity, says orthopaedic surgeon Wael Barsoum, MD. “If you’re climbing steep staircases or crouching or squatting, it’s eight pounds.” So let’s say you’re 60 pounds overweight and you crouch a lot when you garden. You’d be putting 480 pounds of extra pressure on your knees.

Before you despair, know that losing even a little bit of weight can relieve that stress, says Dr. Barsoum, Vice Chairman, Orthopaedic Surgery, at Cleveland Clinic’s Orthopaedic & Rheumatologic Institute.

Most of the data on the effect of weight on the joints has come from studies on the knee, although it’s likely that the hip would suffer the same effect, says Dr. Barsoum, whose specialty interests include reconstructive surgery of the hip and knee joints.

His patients have an average body mass index (BMI) of just over 28. A BMI between 25 and 30 is considered overweight; 30 and above is considered obese. Dr. Barsoum advises patients to lose just a little bit of weight. “They don’t think it will make a difference, but it does,” he says. “Losing 10 or 15 pounds can make a pretty significant difference to your joints.”

An example is a patient from Greece who came to Cleveland Clinic with pain in his knee. The gentleman scheduled his joint replacement surgery and went back to Greece. Six months later, he returned, having lost about 30 pounds, Dr. Barsoum says. “He told me that his pain was gone. I said, ‘If the pain is gone, you don’t need a joint replacement.’” So they canceled the surgery.

Of course, says Dr. Barsoum, not everyone who gets a joint replacement is overweight. Other factors include:

  • Activity level
  • History of injuries
  • High-impact activity
  • Genetics

“It’s a combination of factors, with weight being one of them,” he says. “If you’re genetically prone to arthritis and you happen to be heavy and engage in high-impact activity, it’s a trifecta of who’s going to need a joint replacement.”

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