The Obesity Double Whammy Connection to Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a condition in which the cartilage within our joints around the body begins to degrade, increasing inflammation of the joint and reducing mobility – compromising lifestyle and even causing long-term disability. Osteoarthritis was once mostly limited to the elderly and those that played contact sports or experiencing repeated injury. However, over the past few decades, with the rise of obesity rates in the United States and around the world, osteoarthritis has affected younger and younger patients.

The traditional idea of osteoarthritis

Not long ago, it was assumed that osteoarthritis was simply a product of wear and tear exacerbated by age, excess weight and obesity. The idea was that the excess weight on the joint hastened the breakdown of cartilage and ultimately resulted in limited ability or complete disability of the joint. For many years, we believe this to be the sole, or at least primary, force behind the rise in osteoarthritis

The new thinking

Today, however, research has shown that osteoarthritis may be the result yet another, more insidious side effect of excess weight and obesity – chemical inflammation.

We now know that white fat – the dangerous fat that accumulates around the abdomen, produces inflammatory compounds known as cytokines. These can add a second layer of degeneration in the joints. Cytokines can also be produced after injury to the joint.

Of particular concern is that these cytokines, when produced by adipose tissue in the body, can attach both weight and non-weight bearing joint. In other words, obesity can cause systemic joint degradation.

The bottom line

Now we know there is both a physical wear and tear and a hormonal/chemical component to degradation in the joints of those suffering from obesity. Anyone who carries excess weight creates an environment conducive to earlier onset of osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, osteoarthritis is not reversible, however it can be slowed by losing weight and reducing pressure on the joints. For patients that have severe degeneration in the joints, options for regaining their normal abilities may be limited to partial or total joint replacement. So, the key is prevention.

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