Knees bearing the weight of obesity
February 17th, 2011
04:53 PM ET

Knees bearing the weight of obesity

Obesity isn’t just about waistlines or clothing sizes.  The toll of carrying all that excess weight affects your joints, and your knees can take a pounding.

Four studies presented at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, examined how the heavier Americans have gotten, the more stress they’ve put on their knees.

A Harvard Medical School research team found that the number of total knee replacement surgeries has doubled from 1997 to 2007.

During that same period, the proportion of obese people increased by about 15 percent.  This could be a factor why more people are getting their knees replaced, the study speculates.

But having such surgeries isn't easy for obese people.

They experience more complications after hip and knee replacement surgeries, according to another study.

Researchers compared 12,355 normal weight, overweight and obese patients.   The number of complications such as readmissions, leg swelling, bacterial infections, respiratory disorders, neurologic and gastrointestinal problems, were higher for the obese.

One way to relieve those risks of complications is weight loss.

In a study from Emory University, a group of 10 morbidly obese patients had bariatric surgery. A year later, their knee function improved and pain decreased.  It didn’t completely clear their knee osteoarthritis - there is “probably some element of irreparable damage from being morbidly obese,” according to the researchers.

Those findings were echoed by the Penn State College of Medicine. After bariatric surgery, patients reported improvements in knee pain, stiffness and function.

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soundoff (46 Responses)
  1. Charlotte

    My knees used to hurt all the time – also my ankles and feet. Then I lost 70 lbs and ever since I have never even paused at the prospect of hopping up and walking all around a new city. At professional conferences now when I'm on my feet most of the day, I never find myself thinking about sore feet any more. And although one knee does have osteoarthritis, I was able to climb to the tops of two volcanoes within less than a week of each other, with only minor achiness the next day (and a lot of younger people on the climbs were also achy so I dont think that was just 'me'). Lose the weight. It makes so much difference to your quality of life!

    February 17, 2011 at 19:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Amy

      Wow, so all I have to do is lose weight and my health improves? Who knew!?

      Seriously, it's not that easy for everyone. Some people have severe issues that they can't afford to fix.

      February 18, 2011 at 02:05 | Report abuse |
    • Eumir

      No Amy, you could stop complaining and improve your health as well as everyone's around you.

      February 18, 2011 at 07:33 | Report abuse |
    • Donna

      Hey, Charlotte, I just had my second arthro knee surgery and could stand to lose 40 pounds. Reading your comments will help me to get back on the right track. And I don't want to hear any whining from people who say "it's not easy". Nothing worth doing is easy! Thanks for posting!

      February 18, 2011 at 10:12 | Report abuse |
    • SJay

      Yeay Donna! Good for you. You can do it. Yeay to you too Charlotte. 🙂 It's never easy, but it's not impossible. Almost six years ago I delivered my son at 33—and my post preg weight was 236! My knees KILLED! I had no idea until another mom told me it was the 80+lbs I added on while I was on bedrest. Now, I have four 5K races under my belt, and a New Year's Eve 4-mile race in NYC two months ago, looking forward to my first 10K in two months, and possibly a duathlon this year and a tri next year. With a healthy diet, core strength (like pilates), weight training and running I'm a size 6 and 140lbs—with no knee pain! I couldn't even run across the street before. It was NOT easy, but if I can do it, anybody can.

      March 2, 2011 at 20:40 | Report abuse |
  2. lilgtogirl

    You know this article is missing one important factor, and that is, that there are relatively few doctors in this country who will do surgery on the morbidly obese. Yes, they will give bariatric surgery to those between 300 and 350 pounds, but not more than that. So what these stupid doctors are saying is that they need their obese paitients to lose weight to have surgery to lose more weight. If they could lose weight they would not need the surgery to begin with! I see it every day in my job and I feel so bad for all of them. Doctors are jerks.

    February 17, 2011 at 19:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Janet

      Doctors don't set a weight limit because they are jerks, they do it because the operation is much more dangerous and difficult at extreme weights, and there is a huge chance of complications. Not to mention that bariatric surgery is not a cure-all. To be successful, it requires a lifestyle change. If a patient can not commit to this change before the surgery, they won't be able to after.

      February 17, 2011 at 20:28 | Report abuse |
    • mig

      yeah and I'd like surgery to help me lose the 40 pounds I cannot seem to get off. But I'd have to gain another 60-80 pounds (at least) to 'qualify' for surgery. (Not meaning that I would qualify for insurance, but just to qualify for the surgery itself.)

      Good times.

      February 18, 2011 at 04:21 | Report abuse |
    • jake

      I am around people at work all day complaining of knee pain. One lady asked me recently, "could you go to the store and buy me some french onion chips? My knees hurt today and I don't feel like walking!" That, my friends is a prime example of why fat people need to stop eating, and start walking, the knees will feel better after you sew your mouth closed.

      February 18, 2011 at 08:03 | Report abuse |
    • johnny in queens

      Would you want to stick your arms up to your elbows in 500 pounds of fat? Gross...

      February 18, 2011 at 08:16 | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      I had bariatric surgery – they will do the surgery for people over 400 lbs as well. It is more dangerous and there are chances of more complications after surgery, but they will do it. They suggest people lose a little weight before the surgery in order to minimize the complications that could happen, not because they are being jerks. People have died after having the surgery because of complications. The doctors want to avoid that.

      And it is also a lifetime commitment – they will not do the surgery on you if you are not going to follow the program afterwards – I had to take very intensive psychological testing to ensure that I was ready for this and ready for the commitment and that I would be able to follow-through. It has now been a year and I have lost 145 lbs. I feel great and my knees and back no longer hurt me. But it is a struggle – I still have cravings for the foods that made me fat, I have to constantly fight those cravings.
      The surgery is not a cure – it is a help.

      February 18, 2011 at 09:16 | Report abuse |
    • Daina

      All doctors are jerks for not doiing surgery on those larger than 350 lbs or so, eh? Perhap they elect not to be sued when their >350 patient developes every anesthetic & post-op complication out there; if I were a surgeon I wouldn't touch you with a 10' pole, either.

      March 2, 2011 at 09:59 | Report abuse |
    • sf

      you know, sometimes they literally CANNOT do the surgery. medical instruments are designed for a certain range of people. if a doctor cant insert an instrument through your fat (and i am not saying this to be mean), because its not big enough, then they cannot safely perform the procedures. They also have to resew all those layers of fat/tissue, which if you are too big, may not close properly.

      March 5, 2011 at 18:13 | Report abuse |
  3. John

    Duh, Get in shape America!!!!Save billions in health care costs.
    Exercize more, eat less, eat healthy.

    February 17, 2011 at 20:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eumir

      Judging from most of the posts on here John...
      Most people are too damn stupid for that.

      February 18, 2011 at 07:35 | Report abuse |
    • todd

      The solution may be simple, but it is not easy. I lost 15 pounds – I'd love to lose another 5. (I'm 5/6", 152), and I have to stop eating things like chocolate truffles and bakery cupcakes. One thing that is easy is to avoid the frauds. Diet pills, unless they are FDA approved, could do more harm than good. No special super foods will help. You need to eat foods that fill you up, but have few calories. If you need to eat, eat air popped popcorn (very little butter added). Eat fresh fruits, fresh vegetables (I love baby carrots). If you want chips, just buy single serving size bags so that you know how many servings you are eating. Only drink tea, water, and skim milk.

      Hope this helps.

      February 18, 2011 at 11:52 | Report abuse |
  4. roxanne vowell

    not only do i have a bone spur in my heal, i also have carpol tunnel in BOTH of my hands. and if that is'nt bad enough, i have bad blood flow to my feet which causes swelling. i cant blame doctors for my weight. i can only blame myself. losing weight is'nt as easy as gaining it, but there are options if we search for them

    February 17, 2011 at 21:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Marie

    I feel for everyone that stuggles with weight loss. I was a fat child a fat adolesent and a 275 lb adult. One day I looked in the mirror and said that NO ONE ELSE can change this, no one but me. Until you have that in your head your body will never beleive it. That was 23 years ago. I now weight 145lbs I run 10 km a day 5 days a week and eat healthy. I also join my husband in going to the gym 3times a week. The job of losing weight is not easy for anyone but the rewards to your mind body and self esteem are to many to mention. To everyone trying keep working it can be done and maintained. Good luck to everyone who reads this!!

    February 17, 2011 at 22:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Kellie

    Well I can say from experience that losing the weight did nothing for me and was told that my knee problem was'nt even weight related and now need a total knee replacement,so even at my smallest 150 which is the correct weight for my height didn't mean crap. And to add injury to insult my insurance won't pay for it even though it's needed. Talk about a true Fml.

    February 18, 2011 at 04:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kellie

      Sorry meant to say add insult to injury

      February 18, 2011 at 04:47 | Report abuse |
  7. jake

    Well, it sounds like you are making excuses. Stop eating, start walking, the knees will heal.

    February 18, 2011 at 08:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. johnny in queens

    It costs no money, takes no time, and takes no effort to put down the fork. So here's a free tip. If you're eating 4000 calories a day, eat 3800 calories tomorrow. Then 3500 next week. And 3000 the following week. And don't give me your pathetic excuses. This country can't afford 150 million people who need diabetes, weight loss surgery, and knee replacements.

    February 18, 2011 at 08:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Marie365

    So if you have severe arthritis in you knees, ankles, lower back (pretty much all joints), which is what caused you to gain the weight, how are you supposed to exercise to lose the weight? Seems like an impossible Catch 22.

    February 18, 2011 at 09:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ruth

      Marie see my comment below.

      February 18, 2011 at 10:21 | Report abuse |
  10. zlati

    20 years ago I saw my husband was gaining too much weight, especially around the middle.. I tried everything to help him understand that it would be easier to control his weight then than years later... Well, fast forward 20 years...He's so fat his knees and back are hurting all the time..and he is stuck in the exact cycle you describe...need to excercise to lose weight, but too fat to move enough to really call it excercise....I know it's not easy, but I get so sad and angry that his quality of life has diminshed over something he brought upon himself...

    February 18, 2011 at 09:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • YMM

      I am in the same situation right now as your husband 20 yrs ago. I will make a resolution to stop putting on weight and start exercising. Its the only way out of this mess

      February 18, 2011 at 10:23 | Report abuse |
  11. Ruth

    I broke my kneecap when Iwas 17. I rode horses for twenty years after that, I hike, dance, kickbox, weight lift. I feel a few twinges on occasion, especially when it's really cold but nothing that an ibuprofen doesn't fix. I also have two slipped discs in my back. If you want an excuse you;ll find one, if you want to work out and be healthy, you;ll do it. Bad knees or bad back isn't an excuse.

    February 18, 2011 at 10:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Chris

    A year ago, I weighed almost 300 lbs. I had all the pain in my knees, back, feet... I got on the stick and have lost 127 lbs. by following a restricted food program and exercising each day. I row on a Concept2 rowing machine an hour & a half (had to work up to it). Almost all the problems have gone away! It can be done, but only if you are consistent! I only have 23 lbs to go and I know I will make it. I am so happy. Oh and, I'm 62 years old. What's everyone else's excuse?

    February 18, 2011 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Shmeat makes you fat

    SHMEAT is the reason everyone is obese. It's all on noshmeat.com jees...

    February 18, 2011 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply

    Everyone wants to lose weight but nobody wants to do what it takes to lose it. And it is really common sense and stupidity combined. And yes, I'm fighting the "good fight" too. STOP EATING GARBAGE! You do not "need" 3 meals a day!...of garbage! If you are sitting on your ass all day in a cubicle, guess what? You are not expending any energy and thus DO NOT need that double bacon cheeseburger, fries and a "diet" coke. Stop avoiding what is right in front of...and behind you. Admit you are a fat pig and take the steps. Get info. And most importantly get off your fat ass and move around. Your knees and your family will thank you.

    February 18, 2011 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. amazing werdssen

    fat people are dumb for eating all of than crap ....they bring it upon themselves

    February 18, 2011 at 13:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. M

    THESE are the kinds of costs related to obesity that will being our healthcare down. All these comments about "I can't get the surgery waaahhhhhhh"..... So? Are you all really incapable of anything someone else doesn't do for you?

    February 18, 2011 at 13:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Julia

      I turned out to be Gregory Benford, whom the quiz site driecsbes as a literary stylist as well as a working scientist. Did you check out the Which Office Supply Are You? quiz yet? I'm a desk, without which, according to the quiz site, the office wouldn't be an office.

      September 14, 2012 at 00:56 | Report abuse |
  17. Durrr

    As Freddy Mercury once said to all the fat bottomed girls...Get on your bikes and ride!
    Seriously people, no one can help you but yourself

    March 1, 2011 at 19:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Mike

    As Freddy Mercury once said to all the fat bottomed girls...Get on your bikes and ride!
    Seriously people, no one can help you but yourself.

    March 1, 2011 at 19:31 | Report abuse | Reply
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    April 19, 2011 at 23:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. CP

    It's easy really. Most people believe they need 2500 calories a day, and then get all paranoid about Atkins Diet, low-fat, low-carb; it's all bs. Do 1500 calories a day for 3 weeks. Only eat when your stomach pangs. Drink water, Coffe or milk(yeah whole milk). Like to drink beer? MGD 7mg per 12oz. Fact: over-consumption of salt/sodium causes water retention which causes weight gain. FYI: 6'2" tall, 165 pounds. Wanna lose weight? It's not what you eat, just be prepared if you eat fast food that you DO count the calories, which in turn you will have to skip meals. I will only drink water(when thirsty), coffee with milk(no sugar, no non-dairy creamer), MGD, scotch. Skip a meal? Eat unhealthy? Take a multi-vitamin. Really people it's not that tough. Eat the most natural, un-processed foods available. Think about 60 years ago, pre-fast food...

    May 4, 2011 at 07:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. CP

    Some typos, and no proofreading; whoops. Best diet...Meat, vegetables, and the healthy dressings. Don't eat artificial flavorings, preservatives, and limit your sugars. Enjoy a soda once in a while, but don't make it habit. Want a caffeine buzz drink espresso. I my house blew up it'd look like the scene in Fight Club.

    May 4, 2011 at 07:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. CP

    I do 1500 calories a day, am healthy, have had 4 knee surgeries, and life is good. Don't hate the doctors for not wanting to operate on somebody at 350lbs. Seriously, where do you shop? Feel good about yourself? Fat people in lingerie? Low Salt, limit calories, don't eat fat food(not that hard), eat fresh meats, limit alcohol consumption....Yeah losing the weight is a pain, but you won't need health insurance because you won't be unhealthy. Everything in moderation. Eat less bread, less starch, less pasta, less fat.

    May 4, 2011 at 08:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. The Girl from Ohio

    So I wrote a post yesterday but I am not sure it was received. My comment is for anyone who may think that all fat are fat because they: a. eat too much; b. are lazy and just don't care ; are in total control of their weight. Case in point, I am 5'0 inches tall – small framed but I weigh 331 lbs. Yes as you can imagine life is quite difficult. I have a double whammy, that being hypothyroidism and metabolic syndrome. Both problems make losing weight a losing battle that I've had to deal with for 47 years. So when I see that the general public making comments like that about obese or over weight people, it makes me frustrated. Ask yourself this question (but only if you are of normal weight): Are you at a normal weight because you are constantly dieting and raging exercise? I'll bet the answer is no. In fact, I'll bet that I have better eating habit than you because I've been on every diet out there and I've had to be picky and watch everything I eat and I'm still obese... morbidly obese at that. So please the next time you see a heavy person, think about the struggle and don't assume that we are fat on purpose. Thank you

    May 24, 2018 at 18:09 | Report abuse | Reply
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