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Health & Exercise Forum

Losing Weight Reduces Knee Pain

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Jul 9, 2012

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumNaysayers often say, “Exercise junkies are killing their joints!” Well, it has always been my position that those who do nothing and are overweight destroy their joints as well. And, I would rather DO SOMETHING than nothing! New research from Ottawa, Canada supports my opinion.

In addition to being a risk factor for many serious health conditions (i.e. high cholesterol, high triglycerides, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and cancer), research shows that obesity also increases the risk for developing knee osteoarthritis by four times, as compared to people with a normal body mass index. Obesity, a global health problem, increases mechanical stress on the knee joints, resulting in osteoarthritis, which causes inflammation and pain. Because knee pain reduces physical activity, osteoarthritis can impair a person’s functional abilities and quality of life. Soon the individual becomes part of a vicious cycle: obesity → knee pain → physical inactivity → obesity…

Some Factors for Obesity Can Be Controlled Better Than Others!

Obesity has both non-modifiable and modifiable risk factors. But no factor serves as a valid excuse to give up and do nothing! Heredity, smoking cessation, pregnancy, age, certain medications, and socio-economic issues can all be considered non-modifiable risk factors contributing to obesity. Genetic predisposition can play a role in the amount of body fat you store, how efficiently your body converts food into energy, and how your body burn calories during exercise. Even though smoking cessation contributes to weight gain, the benefits outweigh the risk of obesity! Women often gain weight during pregnancy and some find losing the “baby weight” difficult. As we get older, hormonal and metabolic changes contribute to obesity. Drugs, including anti-depressants, anti-seizure drugs, diabetic medications, steroids, and beta-blockers, can lead to weight gain. As a child and young adult, you may not have been taught healthy lifestyle habits or, as a mature adult, you may not be able to afford healthier foods. Despite all of these “non-modifiable” risk factors, you CANNOT lose the battle against obesity!

Have no fear; the modifiable risk factors are here! You can be the victor in the battle with your obesity because, even though unhealthy dietary habits, family lifestyle, sleep deprivation, and physical inactivity can all contribute to obesity, they can ALL be changed! Consuming more fruits, vegetables, and lean meats, while restricting fast and processed foods, will help reduce the amount of calories you consume each day. We all still love the foods that we grew up on but unfortunately we eventually lose that childhood metabolism. Try to reserve those rich, delicious ethnic foods for special occasions and holidays. If you sleep less than 6 to 8 hours each night, your appetite or your cravings for high calories foods may increase due to hormonal changes.  Physically inactive people do not burn many calories and tend to consume more calories than their bodies require. Remember, obesity occurs when you take in more calories than you burn through daily activity and exercise!

Even though obesity and physical inactivity contribute to the development of knee osteoarthritis, YOU have CONTROL over these risk factors! You can reduce your body weight with healthy eating habits and exercise. If you eat more fruits and vegetables instead of fast and processed foods, you will consume fewer calories and feel much fuller. Limiting your intake of salt, sugar, and fat along with increasing your intake of lean sources of protein (i.e. beans, lentils, and soy) will also help you design a healthy dietary plan that will help you win the “battle of the bulge”! Physical activity and exercise will not only help you burn extra calories and increase lean muscle mass (our bodies require more calories to maintain lean muscle than fat) but also help with smoking cessation and depression.

Exercise with Knee Pain

However, most individuals with knee osteoarthritis have difficulty exercising because even the simple “exercises” cause increased knee pain! Do not despair, because you have many alternatives! If traditional “exercise” increases your knee pain, consider chair exercises, water exercises, Pilates, and cycling. Using hand held weights and resistive bands challenge your upper body muscles to increase your lean muscle mass and burn more calories. Exercising in water provides the buoyancy required to reduce stress on painful knees. Pilates strengthens our muscles while being soft on our joints. Cycling is another low impact alternative for people with painful knees which provides a muscular as well as cardiovascular workout. For those of you with knee pain that would prefer to “just walk” for exercise, consider using an assistive device (e.g. cane, walker with wheels) to reduce the stress and impact on your painful joints.

Please consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. Your physician may also recommend referral to a physical therapist to assist you in developing your exercise program as well as a dietician or nutritionist to help you design a healthy eating plan. Good luck and remember, “…just get out and exercise!”

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

CONTRIBUTING AUTHOR: Janet Caputo, PT, DPT, OCS is clinical director of physical therapy at Mackarey & Mackarey Physical Therapy Consultants, LLC in downtown Scranton where she practices orthopedic and neurological physical therapy.

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” in the Scranton Times-Tribune.

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice in Scranton, PA. He is an associate clinical professor of medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.