Does obesity affect my bone and joint health?

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By Dr. Haissam Elzaim

More than two thirds of adults in the US are overweight and nearly one third of adults are obese. The percentage of adults with obesity has more than doubled to 35% over the past 30 years and at this rate by 2030, 44% of American adults will be obese. It was once thought that carrying a little extra weight would help build stronger bones but obesity in fact affects nearly every organ in the body and is one of the most common diseases that adversely affect bone and joint health. Worldwide approximately 1.5 billion adults are overweight and 500 million adults are obese and the percentage of obesity in children tripled in the last generation to 17%.

Research has shown that obese people have reduced bone density relative to their body weight, as well as an increased risk of fractures even in those with normal bone density. Obesity frequently contributes to soft tissue (muscle, tendons, and ligaments) damage and osteoarthritis (wear and tear of the joint). Joints (knees, hips, ankles, shoulders and elbows) are formed when the ends of two or more bones come together and held together by thick tissues. Joints can carry a certain amount of weight. Putting too much too much weight on your joints can be a serious problem.

Obese and overweight patients are more likely to develop foot and ankle conditions like plantar fasciitis, acquired adult flatfoot deformity and arthritis. The impact of obesity is especially felt in the hip and knee joints so they are 20 times more likely to need a knee replacement. This is because one pound of body weight places 4-6 pounds of pressure on the knee joint.

Obesity may have detrimental effects on surgical outcome compared to individuals with normal weight. Obese patients are at a higher risk of postoperative complications such as infection, delayed wound healing, blood clots and prosthetic joints dislocations. Obese patients involved in major trauma are also more likely to have medical and surgical complications, longer hospital stay, and increased mortality.

If you are diagnosed with obesity, it is important to recognize what the excess weight means for your joints and bones. Losing weight can decrease your chances for developing joint problems and can also lessen your chances for an injury, such as a broken bone.