Which came first – the sore joints or the excess weight? If you are part of the 63.4% of Australians who carry extra weight, your joints (particularly your knees and lower back) can be under a lot of pressure. And then you get sore, so you exercise less, and then you gain more weight… sound familiar?
It’s time to break that vicious cycle, but first it’s important to know why your extra weight might be sabotaging your joint health. Let’s start from the start and get to know inflammation, from the inside out.
Excess weight and inflammation
Extra fat cells in the body are not only unwanted, but they are active – in the sense that they can create and release their own chemicals. These chemicals and proteins are known as inflammatory markers, and when produced in large amounts by fat cells, they accelerate a bodily process which you might be familiar with: pain, swelling, redness around joints. By losing extra body weight, particularly shrinking fat cells, the process of joint wear and tear can be significantly slowed down by reducing the level of these inflammatory markers, AND promotes the body’s own anti-inflammatory processes. This ultimately results in less pain, less body weight, and much more function. It’s a win-win-win scenario!
Reduce the forces in your joints
Day to day activities such as walking, getting up from a chair, or going up and down stairs can become much easier as your body weight comes down. As we walk around each day, our joints – especially the knees – withstand compressive forces, which are essentially the process of pushing the bones towards each other. When the ends of bones are covered in supportive, cushioning cartilage, we are able to undergo these forces without pain – but we know that over time the effectiveness of that cartilage cover is reduced. The great news is, by losing weight, research has shown up to a four-fold reduction in the forces in the knees and lower back. Now that’s going to feel good!
Moving around your joint pain
Weight loss to manage inflammation is multi-faceted, and highly individual, but very possible. It’s important to at least start by moving, in the right way for you. We know that joint pain causes muscle weakness in that area, and in turn, that muscle weakness places more forces on the joints, so an exercise program which targets those muscles is going to be highly effective. Contracting and using your muscles (known as resistance training, or strength training) also increases your metabolism and assists weight loss efforts. You may even wish to start exercising in the water if you are in a lot of pain, which reduces the compressive forces in the joints and allows you to move with ease. Be careful of exercises with high joint impact (running, jumping, heavy weight lifting) while you are still developing the muscles to keep you strong.
An Accredited Exercise Physiologist is a health professional who specialises in prescribing exercise for joint pain and weight management, but you may wish to start gently yourself by walking in waist-deep water or riding an exercise bike at a low resistance to get those joints moving smoothly!