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Weight and Your Joints

by Benjamin I. Panter, MD

With the new year approacing, I've been contemplating my weight and getting back into shape. I know as far as New Year's resolutions it's an old cliché, but there's a reason for it. Many, if not most of us, are overweight. Obestiy has plagued our country as a whole over the last few decades and seems to be getting worse. We know we should probably do something about it, so we make the declaration that this is going to be THE YEAR we get our weight under control. Then, too often we let other things get in the way and don't accomplish this goal. Let's face it...it's extremely hard to do!

Excess weight takes its toll on our bodies - mentally, physically and sometimes emotionally. It's hard to blame us. We have food all over the place, readily available. Treats that used to be a luxury long ago are so easy to get (and taste so good...mmmm) it can be hard to turn down. "Why not? Live life! Eat, drink and be merry!" Right? While this is true to some extent, moderation is always a good thing.

It's not hard to see obesity increases our mortality rate overall, primarilly due to increases in chronic disease like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and even some cancers. It also has a direct correlation with number of sick days, medical claims, and overall health care costs.

Excess weight affects us in the orthopedic world as well. The more you weigh, the more force is placed on your joints with every step taken. Your back, hips, knees, and feet are all involved. Obesity increases your chances of developing degenerative arthritis, too.

Morbid obesity (or a Body Mass Index greater than 40) is proven to have an 'increased complication rate' for joint replacements and other surgical procedures. In addition, it can cause joint replacements to wear out quicker, increases risk of infection with procedures, and increases the risk of breaking bones. Although being overweight doesn't prevent your surgeon from considering all options to alleviate your pain, it may prevent you from qualifying as a candidate for some procedures due to the risks involved.

Weight loss is not an easy topic to discuss, nor is it easy to hear the words, "You need to lose weight." However, knowing what extra weight does to our body's overall health, it's easy to understand the benefits of weight loss. Even modest decreases in weight/body fat tend to make people feel better overall, and can result in substantial improvements in blood pressure and diabetes control. Weight loss can help your muscles and joints ache less, too.

Over the last few years, my hectic schedule (i.e. medical school and residency training) has not 'done my body good'. It's about time to start taking my own advice to lose weight and get into better shape not just for the present, but for the future. Weight loss is not easy and takes a lot of effort - but the payoff is definitely worth it. For those already trying...keep up the good work. I'm with you!

FACT: According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Oklahoma ranks as the 11th most obese state in the U.S. in 2012.