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Overeating Impacts Joints

Obesity Accelerates Wear on Joints Causing Pain

Calories are taken in through food. They are used through physical activity and basic body functions. Excess weight gain occurs when this relationship is not kept in balance. High caloric intake consistently greater than the number of calories burned through activity and basic metabolic processes will cause weight gain. If this happens regularly it will lead to obesity.

Being overweight or obese means your weight is above an ideal weight range. One tool used to estimate ideal and overweight ranges is called the  body mass index (BMI). This scale determines weight ranges based on height. Overweight and obesity are defined as having a body mass index [BMI] greater than or equal to 25 and 30, respectively. BMI levels include:

  • Ideal weight range: 18.5-24.9
  • Overweight: 25.0-29.9
  • Obese: 30.0 or above
  • Morbid obesity: 40 or above (35 and above with current health condition like diabetes or high blood pressure)

Research has shown that overweight people are at greater risk for chronic pain, mainly due to excessive weight placed on the joints. The extra pounds accelerates the wear on joints and the spine. As a result, the most common pain disorders related to overweight and obesity are low  back pain and osteoarthritis, a disease in which the joints deteriorate.

In addition, people with more body fat may have higher blood levels of substances that cause inflammation. Inflammation at the joints may also raise the risk for osteoarthritis.

Protect Your Joints

Here are ways to help protect your joints, courtesy of the Arthritis Foundation:

  • As excess weight can cause stress and excess wear and tear on joints, keep your body at a healthy weight.
  • Get regular exercise to strengthen muscles that surround and protect the joints.
  • Practice good posture.
  • Be careful when lifting or carrying heavy objects.
  • Don't ignore pain. When something starts to hurt, stop activity or exercise to prevent strain or injury.
  • Don't stay in one position for too long. Try to move the body's joints and muscles regularly.
  • Always wear protective equipment, including helmets and wrist pads, when appropriate.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted March 2011

Contact Information

Carl J. Shapiro Department of Orthopaedics
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215