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Search Health Information    Added Pounds May Speed Up Knee Osteoarthritis
 Orthopedic Health Feature Story

Added Pounds May Speed Up Knee Osteoarthritis
Finding adds another reason to control weight, expert says

Added Pounds May Speed Up Knee Osteoarthritis(HealthDay News) -- It usually comes on gradually, the knee pain that occurs when cartilage in the joint becomes scarce, eliminating the natural cushion it provides between the bones. As people age, the tissue simply wears thin.

But in some people, loss of knee cartilage occurs quickly. And researchers now believe that a person's weight can play a big role in this process.

Knee osteoarthritis, as the condition is called, develops when cartilage breaks down, leaving the ends of bones to rub against each other. This leads to stiffness, pain and loss of movement in the knee.

"We know that weight loss is probably the most important factor to slow disease progression," Dr. Frank W. Roemer, a research associate professor at Boston University and co-director of the quantitative imaging center in the department of radiology at Boston University School of Medicine, told HealthDay.

Roemer also was lead author of what's believed to be the first study to link obesity with fast progression of knee osteoarthritis. The study included 336 overweight people who were at risk of osteoarthritis but had minimal or no cartilage loss in their knees. In a 30-month span, about 20 percent of the participants had slow loss of knee cartilage and 6 percent had rapid cartilage loss.

Being overweight was linked to rapid loss, the study found. For every one-unit increase in body mass index, the risk of rapid cartilage loss increased 11 percent. The link between obesity and cartilage loss remained even after the researchers accounted for participants' age, gender and ethnic background.

"Other studies will have to show if other measures, such as vitamins or targeted treatment of bone marrow lesions, will help to slow progression," Roemer said.

The findings, reported in Radiology, give people another reason to control their weight, said Dr. Sean Scully, a professor of orthopedics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "Don't let yourself get heavy. This study shows a direct correlation: People who are heavy are the ones that are getting worse," Scully told HealthDay.

Controlling weight through proper diet and exercise -- along with weight-loss surgery, if necessary -- could prevent the need for knee-replacement surgery, Scully said.

The effect could be quite widespread because "osteoarthritis is the most common musculoskeletal disorder with major health and socioeconomic impact in our aging society," Roemer noted. "It is a disease without treatment at present other than symptomatic -- mostly pain therapy and surgical total joint replacement," he added.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, treatments for knee osteoarthritis include:

  • Rest, or avoiding activities that make pain worse
  • Ice to reduce inflammation and pain
  • Over-the-counter painkillers
  • Physical therapy or exercises to strengthen muscles around the knee
  • Injections to reduce pain and inflammation
  • Surgery

On the Web

To learn more about osteoarthritis, visit the U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; Frank W. Roemer, M.D., research associate professor and co-director, Quantitative Imaging Center, Department of Radiology, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston; Sean Scully, M.D., Ph.D., professor, orthopedics, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami; August 2009, Radiology; Arthritis Foundation (www.arthritis.org); American Academy of Family Physicians (www.familydoctor.org)

Author: Robert Preidt

Publication Date: July 31, 2010


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