Osteoarthritis is a joint disease characterized by the degeneration of cartilage. The condition affects the knees, hips, hands, and spine and occurs due aging, being overweight, stress on the joints, injury to the joints, and genetic factors. Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that more than 52.5 million US adults have knee arthritis and nearly 1 in 2 people have the chance of developing the condition by age 85.
According to a study presented at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) meeting in Chicago last November, obese patients who lose a substantial amount of weight experience significantly slower knee cartilage degeneration.
The researchers evaluated about 500 overweight and obese patients. They used MRI scans (magnetic resonance imaging) to investigate the potential link between different amounts of weight loss and the progression of knee cartilage degeneration. The sudden impact that weight loss can have on knee cartilage progression was studied. It was found that knee cartilage degeneration was slower in patients who lost more than 10% of their body weight.
As part of the study, participants (who either had mild to moderate osteoarthritis or known risks for the disease) were divided into three groups:
- Group 1 – People who did not lose weight (the controls)
- Group 2 – People who lost a little weight
- Group 3 – People who lost more than 10% of their body weight
The participants underwent MRI scans for over a period of 4 years to see how osteoarthritis progressed in their knees. The MRI measurements revealed visible changes in cartilage quality at a very early stage, even before it breaks down.
The study suggests that weight loss appears to offer a protective effect for the knee cartilage quality change. Knee cartilage degeneration was found to be much slower in group 3 (people who lost more than 10% of their body weight, especially in the weight-bearing regions of the knee). However, those with 5-10% weight loss experienced no noticeable difference in cartilage degeneration compared to others who did not lose weight.
Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease the effects of which are irreversible. The knee is a common site that is affected, and in many people, the disease progresses to the point where the whole knee needs to be replaced. The risk of osteoarthritis increases with age. Obesity is one of the main risk factors as extra body weight puts additional stress on joints like the hips and knees, and increases inflammation-promoting proteins produced by fat tissue. Treatment is customized to suit the patient’s health, needs and lifestyle and can involve exercise, weight control, rest and joint care, medication, non-drug pain management, and complementary and alternative therapies. Surgery would be recommended only as the last resort. With a personalized treatment plan, patients can expect reduced pain, improvement in joint function, and improved quality of life.