Knee pain is one of the most common complications of being overweight or obese. If you’re among the millions of people who suffer from chronic knee pain, even a small amount of weight loss can help ease your suffering and lower your risk of osteoarthritis (OA).

According to a report from the Institute of Medicine, nearly 20 percent of American adults, or more than 61 million people, suffer from knee pain, second only to lower back pain. If that number seems high, consider the fact that more than two-thirds of Americans are overweight (BMI between 25 and 29.9) or obese (BMI of 30 or higher). Those extra pounds increase the stress on your knees, which can cause chronic pain and lead to other complications such as OA.

How Weight Loss Affects Knee Pain

Maintaining a healthy weight has numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk of several diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancers. Losing weight benefits knee pain in two ways:

  • Decreases weight-bearing pressure on the knees. Each pound of weight loss can reduce the knee-joint load by four pounds. Lose just 10 pounds, and that’s 40 fewer pounds per step your knees have to support. That might not sound like much, but the results add up quickly. Less pressure means less wear and tear on the knees, thus lowering the risk of OA.
  • Reduces inflammation in the body. For years, OA was considered a wear-and-tear disease resulting from prolonged excess pressure on the joints, particularly the knees, which in turn caused inflammation. But recent research suggests that inflammation is a key OA risk factor, rather than a consequence. Being overweight may increase inflammation in the body that can lead to joint pain. One study found that overeating triggers the body’s immune response, which increases inflammation, and that losing weight can reduce this inflammatory response. Another study suggests that just a 10 percent reduction in weight can significantly lower inflammation in the body.

The Link Between Weight Gain and OA

Because being overweight or obese only increases these two risk factors of OA, carrying around extra pounds significantly increases a person’s risk for developing the disease. Overweight women are four times more likely while overweight men are five times more likely to develop OA than women and men with healthy weight.

But losing even a small amount of weight can be beneficial. For overweight women, every 11 pounds of weight loss can reduce the risk of knee OA by more than 50 percent. Obese men who drop into the overweight category (BMI below 30) and overweight men who drop into the normal weight category (BMI below 26) can reduce their risk of knee OA by 21.5 percent.

Easy Ways to Lose Weight

Weight loss is the best solution to ease knee pain as well as lower the risk of developing OA. While the idea of losing weight can seem like a daunting task, there are simple steps you can take to start shedding pounds:

  • reduce portion sizes
  • add one vegetable to your plate
  • go for a walk after a meal
  • take the stairs rather than the escalator or elevator
  • pack your own lunch instead of eating out
  • use a pedometer

Taking the necessary steps to manage your weight can help protect your knees from joint pain and reduce your risk of OA.