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Obesity & Arthritis

We have all heard that obesity can lead to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and even cancer. All that, however seems to overshadow the fact that extra weight can also contribute to, if not be a major cause of, arthritis. The 2 most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

  1. Osteoarthritis (OA)

    • The most common type; sometimes called Degenerative Joint Disease or "wear and tear" arthritis. It occurs when cartilage which cushions the joint breaks down. In time all that may be left in the joint space is bone on bone, making it painful to walk and resulting in stiffness, swelling and pain. Bone spurs may also develop in the joint --the body's way of trying to stabilize the deteriorating structure--which leads to further pain and inflammation.
    • Statistics (CDC) show that one in 5 adults has been diagnosed with arthritis, but the numbers amongst obese people increases to 1 in 3. Furthermore 2 out of 3 Americans are either overweight or obese.
    • There are factors beyond our control which are contributors to arthritis such as: age, genetics, accidental injuries, and overuse (certain jobs requiring repetitive movements). One factor, however which we have a lot of control over is our WEIGHT.
    • It makes total sense that weight would affect our joints: it puts stress on joints--especially the weight bearing ones such as knees, hips and the lower back
    • As an example: every pound of excess weight exerts about 4 pounds of extra pressure on the knees, so.... 10 lb of extra weight = 40 lb extra pressure on knees. 100 lb of extra weight = 400 lb extra pressure on knees
    • One may think ---OK, I don't walk on my hands so how does extra weight affect the arthritis in my fingers? The answer to this is simple: inflammatory factors produced in fat cells affect all joints--the more fat cells, the more inflammatory factors, therefore more inflammation and pain.
  3. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

    • An autoimmune disease causing pain, swelling, and potential deformity in joints.
    • Smoking used to be considered the only modifiable risk factor in RA, but now studies are also pointing to obesity as the likely culprit.
    • Fat cells are known to produce and store inflammatory proteins which then cause joint pain and swelling --it's just like adding kindling to a burning fire.
    • Vitamin D levels tend to be lower in people who are overweight as well as in residents of northern latitudes----so just by living in Idaho and being overweight it seems that we get a double whammy. This is very significant as vitamin D levels have been associated with RA amongst many other disorders.

In conclusion, we can clearly see that extra weight not only can cause us to have blood sugar control issues, heart problems, breathing problems, stroke leading to disability, and some forms of cancer, but it can also cause daily pain, decreased mobility and sometimes difficulty in performing simple activities of daily living. Losing weight can sure be a challenge but it is not impossible. It does take some commitment and determination, and sometimes help and support from those around us --- but it has far reaching rewards which will keep paying off. Keep moving, All of us at Eastern Idaho Spine Center

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